Momentum means so much in basketball games. Laney had it Saturday at home against defending AAA state champ Morgan County. Everything seemed to come easy to the Wildcats during the first half. After taking a 15-2 lead early behind mostly uncontested open court layups, Laney's half court offense began to stall. And Mississippi State bound Tookie Brown and his Bulldog teammates began showing signs of figuring out how to get layups against Laney's all over the court trapping defense. But momentum was still on Laney's side as Daniel Chisolm got credit for a basket heading into the half on a highly questionable goal tending call, giving Laney a 29-19 lead at the break.
After Chisolm opened the second half with a nice jab step, drive, and finish with the left hand, Laney's positive momentum temporarily ended. Morgan County went on a 12-2 run and cut the Wildcats' lead to two at 33-31. Brown and junior Jailyn Ingram had gotten on a roll, especially Brown. The senior guard had seen two defenders in front of him most of the night. He had figured out how to make his move quickly when he had the opportunity, and to pull up and drill his sweet jump shot before the second defender could get there. And it didn't hurt that Morgan County lived at the foul line, many after Laney's aggressive defenders were called for hand checking Brown and other Bulldog ball handlers.
"Old Mo," as my dad used to call it, had shifted against Laney on the offensive end as well. The team had struggled from deep all game. But during the second half even the point blank shots wouldn't fall. Three missed dunks, two by Jervon Walker and one by Jalen Taylor, come to mind. So does a wide open layup that Jashawn Brooks inexplicably turned into a reverse layup attempt that missed the mark.
During times like these, lesser teams panic. One Wildcat that definitely did not panic was head coach Buck Harris. He encouraged Walker after his missed opportunities. And he showered praise on Brooks after he took a gutsy charge in traffic. But most importantly, he did not change his normal rotation. Because of this, reserve guards Donald Henley and Tommy Smith were able to manufacture some points and give Laney a little breathing room in the form of a 41-36 lead heading into the fourth quarter and a 3-5 point lead throughout the first few minutes of the fourth. Henley's disposition was perfect for this moment. The freshman probably had no appreciation for the supposed "importance" of the game against Georgia's best AAA team from last season. He calmly picked dribblers clean twice, blew by defenders, finished in the paint, and sank free throws en route to a six point, two assist, two steal spurt that steadied Laney's ship.
One result of Henley and Smith's help was physical and mental rest for Zep Jasper and Christian Keeling. Zep seemed like a different player when he returned. Whether it was the break or a special trait that allows him to play his best in the biggest moments I can't say. But his play during the overtime period quickly put the game out of reach. On two different possessions when Laney led by two, Jasper took things into his own hands, blowing past his defender near half court and making a pull-up from the foul line once and attacking the rim to finish over Ingram the second time.
Keeling's fly-around, attack-the-paint game was more effective Saturday than against St Francis and Stephenson, who had 6'10" centers guarding the rim. The pace of the game fit his strengths nicely as he repeatedly made timely baskets. The same goes for steady seniors Taylor and Brooks. No point was bigger than the free throw Brooks sank seconds after Tookie Brown's miraculous driving basket that gave Morgan County its first lead with less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation. Kudos to Harris for not calling timeout and giving Brooks a chance to attack and draw an open court foul against an unprepared Bulldog defense on that play.
I wrote last week about friend my Matt Scott and my agreeing before Laney's second game that a 1-3 start would not be a bad start for the Wildcats. One week Laney has posted the exact opposite record, 3-1, after playing two defending state champs and traditional powerhouse Stephenson.
Don't think things will get easier for Laney from here, though. The next four opponents include local rival ARC (Tuesday); the team many believe to be Georgia's best, Pebblebrook, Saturday in the Nike Explosion Tourney at Wheeler High School; Norcross the following Saturday; and local power Glenn Hills December 16.
Jasper's 16 points led Laney in scoring Saturday. Keeling scored 15, and Taylor added 16. Morgan County's Brown led all scorers with 21 points while Florida Atlantic University bound Deverious Brown added 16 and Ingram chipped in 10.