It was the first of at least two meetings this season between two of the area’s top prep basketball teams, Tyner and Brainerd. Judging by the atmosphere—the sheer number of fans, along with their level of excitement—it felt like a lot more than an early-season District 6-AA showdown.
“It’s the Tyner-Brainerd rivalry,” Rams head coach Gerald Harris said. “This was a statement game.”
And while it didn’t appear to be the case early, it was Harris' squad that was making that statement in its 59-37 victory over the Panthers.
“We played with some poise,” Harris said. “I was proud of the guys. I was proud of the fact that we didn’t play up to the crowd. I thought we did everything that we said we needed to coming into this game. It was going to require defense, it was going to require rebounding the ball and playing Rams basketball. I thought we did all that.”
There were solid performances across the board for Tyner (6-0, 4-0 District 6-AA), like seniors Sadik Spence and Daaron Mastin’s, who each finished with 15 point to lead the Rams. Or senior Rodney Watson, who, in addition to his 12 points, caused problems in the Brainerd backcourt all game long defensively. 6-foot-6 senior Alex Watkins had a limited impact on the offensive end, finishing with just two points, but he was team’s leader on the boards and altered a countless number of the opposition's shots.
Of course, the fact that Brainerd—particularly guard Marques Tipton—was battling foul trouble throughout, certainly played into the Rams’ hand as well.
“It helped a whole lot because [Tipton] is a big part of what they’re trying to do,” Harris said. “We did a good job of making him work for every shot. A couple of times we gave him open looks—some jumpers—but after that we face-guarded him and made him put it on the floor.”
Tipton, who was on the bench for much of the second and third quarters, finished with just eight points before picking up his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter. Orlando Moore finished with 15 to lead the Panthers (10-2, 3-1), while Demarcus Otis chipped in six.
“Tyner came to play and we didn’t,” Brainerd coach LaVar Brown said. “They were hungry and wanted it more than we did. They wanted every loose ball and every rebound. I’m sure we’ll learn from it.
After falling behind by six in the games opening minutes, Tyner weathered Brainerd’s early blows before storming back with a 12-2 run to conclude the opening quarter. Spence’s basket with 2:11 left in the first spotted the Rams a 12-10 advantage, and they never trailed after that.
Tyner managed to stretch its lead to 27-19 at the break, and it only grew in the second half, especially in the closing seconds of the third. Sophomore guard Devonte Jones completed a spectacular three-point play around the basket, and Spence added a very long, very difficult fadeaway 3-pointer at the buzzer to make the score 47-34.
The fourth quarter was even more one-sided, as the Rams outscored the Panthers 12-3 in the final period.
“We’re going to face them again,” Harris said. “We’ve got to go to their place (Feb. 8) and I’m sure they’re going to be hungry to avenge this.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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