Ten versus four. That’s one of the numbers that stood out when watching the Upson-Lee Knights and LaGrange Grangers hit the hardwood for a scrimmage game last Thursday night. LaGrnage suited up 10 seniors, to the Knights’ four seniors. LaGrange finished 18-11 last season, advancing to the State Playoffs. The Grangers are favored to win their region this season, and after a quarter of play it was easy to see why.
The biggest factor for the Knights seemed to be rebounding and making free throws. Upson-Lee made only 10-27 (37 percent) free throws in the game, something that plagued the Knights last season.
“No way around it,” said Knights head coach Darrell Lockhart. “We have got to start making our free throws. Making free throws will be essential to us having success this season. We are going to be one of the smaller teams in the region, so we need to get to the line, and when we get there, we have got to knock down our free throws.”
The Knights were able to get their fast break going early in the game, with easy buckets from sophomore Malik Crafter and freshman K.D. Pennyman. However, the Grangers would apply a full court press early in the first quarter, limiting the Knights’ offensive opportunities. The Grangers led the Knights 16-6 after the first quarter.
The Knights began to find a little more rhythm offensively in the second quarter, as junior guard Toby Fuentes gave the Knights a spark off the bench. The Knights scored 15 points in the second quarter of play, but they were still outscored 18-15 in the quarter, and trailed 34-21 at halftime. LaGrange guard Justyn Olson scored 21 points in the game, leading all players.
In the second half of the game, the Knights were able to get some of their younger players in the game. With only four seniors on the team, Upson-Lee will depend heavily on sophomores and freshmen this season. Freshman Qua-Lee Harris knocked down the Knights only three-pointer of the game, but the game was lost for the Knights on the free throw line and on the glass.
Each time the Knights would mount a rally, the Knights would get fouled and miss free throws. Olson also drained three treys in the second half, keeping the Knights at bay.
One bright spot for the Knights was the play of junior forward Caleb Ward. The 6’2 junior led the Knights with 12 points, including eight points in the fourth quarter. He also was perfect from the free throw line, making both of his attempts.
Sophomore Malik Crafter finished with nine points, freshman K.D. Pennyman added eight points, Ja’Qualen Willis and Toby Fuentes scored four points, while freshman Qua-Lee Harris and senior Travis Pittman each chipped in with three points in the Knights’ loss.
Upson-Lee will tip off their season with a game against the Taylor County Vikings next Friday night at the ULHS gym. The Vikings went 26-3 last season, with two of those losses coming to Upson-Lee by one point each. Tip-off for Friday’s game is slated for 7:30 p.m.