MURFREESBORO – Underdog Hampton caused Memphis Mitchell coach Andre Turner to go off half-cocked, triggering a 17-1 run that essentially ended the Bulldogs’ season.
Hampton was tied at 25 at the half with the talented Tigers in Friday’s Class A semifinal, but was staring at a 42-26 deficit on the Murphy Center scoreboard less than five minutes later.
Creating havoc with pressure defense and transition points, Mitchell (32-7) ultimately cruised to a 65-50 victory, setting up an all-Memphis title game against Booker T. Washington on Saturday.
Turner, a former NBA player and Memphis Tigers record-setting point guard who’s in his first year as Mitchell head coach, wasn’t happy in the locker room at halftime – not that he’d divulge what was said.
“I just lost my mind,” Turner said with a smile. “Actually … I told the guys, ‘We’re good. As terrible as we played those last three to four minutes, the game is tied. It’s not like we’re down.’ I said, ‘We should be down 15 points as terrible as we played. But the game is tied. So now let’s impose our will again these first three minutes, because that’s gonna be the key to this basketball game.’ And that’s exactly what they did.”
Hampton, which was in its third straight state tournament and lost to Mitchell in the semifinals in 2014, ended the season at 29-7. The loss ended the impressive career of senior wing Coby Jones, who led Ned Smith’s Bulldogs with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists despite drawing a lot of attention from Mitchell defenders and sitting 5:45 of the first half with three fouls.
Jones was instrumental in Hampton going 87-21 and winning two state tournament games the past three seasons.
“That’s pretty great to have a senior year and a high school career like that, ain’t it,” Jones said. “We’ve just had the support from the fans … and it feels great to be that successful, you know. I just wish we could’ve had one more.”
Oddly enough, Hampton’s most inspiring stretch came while Jones sat 5:45 of the second quarter. Mitchell led 18-9 when Jones picked up his third foul with 6:02 left in the first half.
But Nathan Norris, Adam McClain, Chris Holtsclaw, Dakota Crumley and Charlie Butler helped the ‘Dogs get within 25-23 late in the first half.
Holtsclaw tied the score at 23 with a 3-pointer from the left corner after a skip pass from Norris, who made a pull-up 8-footer, two free throws and assisted a Butler trey that cut Mitchell’s lead to 22-20. McClain made a mid-range runner on an assist from Holtsclaw.
Wyatt Lyons helped too, blocking a shot and drawing a charge in the second quarter.
And after Smith inserted Jones for an offensive possession with 17 seconds left in the half, Jones drove the baseline and made an interior pass to Crumley for a basket that sent Hampton to the locker room tied.
“I thought the kids played extremely hard – from the seniors down to the subs,” Smith said. “I mean, they played hard and did what they were supposed to do. We was just a little outmatched tonight.
“We tried to run our sets and there was just a lot of pressure on the ball, lanky and long. It’s just hard to get the ball where it needed to be. We missed a few shots and they capitalized.”
Mitchell’s Tevin Olison, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, paced four double-figure scorers with 19 points and handed out a game-high five assists. He also had a crowd-pleasing transition dunk after making one of his two steals.
“We keyed on him and he still gets 19,” Smith said. “We done about all we could do with him. Somebody was with him every minute, but he still gets 19.”
Hampton finished with 16 turnovers and nine assists. Five players blocked a shot for the Tigers, who grabbed eight steals.
“We played a hard-fought game,” McClain said. “They’ve got a lot of speed and athleticism, and they’re really long. It’s hard to get the ball down the court sometimes when they’re that long, because you can’t throw it over the top. And when you make a bounce-pass they’re so long they can just get ahold of it. It’s pretty hard to get it down the floor when they’re that big and athletic.”
Norris and Butler scored eight and seven points, respectively. Jose Velazquez added six. Lyons matched Jones’ five rebounds.
Jones parlayed his final field goal – and 8-foot pull-up in the lane – in to a three-point play that got Hampton within 58-46 with 1:09 left.
Turner said his Tigers players, namely Olison, warned one another that Hampton would fight until the end after watching it defeat Clay County in overtime in a the quarterfinals.
“His comment was, ‘Coach, they’re not gonna give up. They’re gonna keep playing They’re not gonna give up,’” Turner said. “And he said that even the last minute of the game: ‘Guys, we’ve gotta keep playing because these guys are not gonna give up.’ And that’s a testament to their coach and to their staff and to those guys (at Hamtpon). They keep fighting.”
Hampton’s crowd was large and loud – perhaps outnumbering Mitchell’s five to one.
“They’re always there for us,” Jones said. “I’ve been really thankful for them and they’ve helped us along the way.”
Smith will have huge holes to fill with the loss of Jones and Norris, but the rest of the roster returns.
“Hampton basketball’s gonna be Hampton basketball,” Jones said. “With Ned here coaching and all the hard workers we’ve got, things ain’t gonna change. We’ve got good kids. …
“He’s a coach that’ll push you to your limit and then some. He cares about you and we’re really thankful for him, and he’s done a great job with this team, as you can see.”
Tomonique Marion, a 6-foot-4 junior forward, had 16 points and nine rebounds for Mitchell. Ladarius Lee and Tyran Davis added 14 and 11, respectively, for a the Tigers, who’ll look for their third straight state title while trying to beat Booker T. Washington for the second time in four meetings this season. Mitchell was without two starters in
one of the two losses.
The Class AAA championship also features an all-Memphis matchup: Cordova vs. Memphis East.
“It’s a testament to the talent level that we have in Memphis, but also to the work – the amount of work that’s been put in by all these teams,” Turner said. “To come up here and have an all triple-A and single-A final, you know, it’s something real special. But you know, the real special part for the Tigers will be to hoist the gold ball.”
Trey Williams is a correspondent for CarterCountySports.com in addition to Northeast Tennessee Basketball Yearbook. He can be followed on Twitter @Treywillwrite.