Howard secured the District 6-AA Tournament championship on Tuesday night at Hixson High School, defeating rival Brainerd for the third time this season, 75-64.
The top-seeded Hustlin’ Tigers (23-5), who rolled to a 27-point victory over Central in Saturday’s semifinals, had to work a little harder to take down the third-seeded Panthers (14-12), but they enjoyed the same end result.
“We came out with a mindset of winning, and played as a team,” Howard’s Brandon Walters said. “When we play as a team nobody can beat us.”
Walters, who led all scorers with 25 points, scored eight in the final period, but it was Howard’s Cudjoe Young who provided the late-game spark that lifted the Tigers to victory.
After a three-point play by Brainerd’s Orlando Moore brought the Panthers to within 64-59 with 2:05 to play, Young took the inbounds, drove the length of the court, then threw down a powerful one-handed dunk with 1:56 left.
“He’s an athlete,” Howard coach Walter McGary said of Young. “He gave us a tremendous lift when he got in the ball game. He is, without a doubt, one of our fiercest defenders. That dunk was just the icing on the cake.”
The junior guard’s slam not only brought the Howard faithful to their feet in the closing moments, it also sparked a 7-0 run that put an end to the Panthers’ hopes of a comeback.
“We had a breakdown in defense in the last four minutes,” Brainerd coach Robert High said. “We’d been playing them tight up front in man, and we start letting them drive to basket—what was it—five straight times. You can’t play like that and win.”
Marques Tipton led the Panthers with 21 points—12 in the second half—and the sophomore forward knocked down four 3-pointers to keep his team in the game. It wasn’t like Brainerd had many other options.
Not with a player like Walters clogging up the middle.
“Like I tell him all the time, if he’s focused, it doesn’t matter what the other team tries to do to him,” McGary said. “I can’t say enough about Brandon this year. He’s in better shape and his attitude is better too.”
Brainerd’s big man, Moore, who finished with just five points, struggled to get anything going offensively against Walters.It wasn’t from a lack of trying, though.
“He’s a tremendous ball player at the high school level,” said McGary, referring to Moore. “But I’ll take my kid over anybody when he comes prepared to play.”
The 6-8 senior tallied nine blocked shots in the win.
"It was a physical game; a Howard-Brainerd game," Walters said. "(Moore) goes at me, I go at him. That's how we make each other better."
Senior Shalique Cameron finished with 17 points for the Hustlin’ Tigers, Young chipped in 12 and senior Xavier Harris added 11.
Senior Devonte Cooper and junior Tyree Stubbs each scored 10 for the Panthers, while senior Jay Besley contributed seven in the losing effort.
Despite the defeat, Brainerd will be at home for its opening-round game of the Region 3-AA Tournament, which gets underway Saturday, when Panthers play host to District 5-AA semifinalist Sequoyah (16-12).
“We’re going back to 1020 North Moore Rd.,” High said. “It’s not over until it’s over.”
The Tigers will also host their first-round game when they take on Polk County (7-23), the No. 4 team from 5-AA.
District 6-AA Tournament
No. 1 Howard 72, No. 8 Red Bank 52
No. 2 Tyner 78, No. 7 Hixson 45*
No. 3 Brainerd 63, No. 6 East Ridge 54
No. 5 Central 57, No. 4 East Hamilton 42
No. 1 Howard 77, No. 5 Central 41
No. 3 Brainerd 66, No. 2 Tyner 63
No. 5 Central 63, No. 2 Tyner 53
No. 1 Howard 75, No. 3 Brainerd 64