The Arabian Knights tipped off the high school basketball season on the road Tuesday by going 3-2 at Cullman before hosting Grissom last night (Friday).
Arab 67, Cullman 54
Believe it or not, Cullman led the game 10-0 before the Knights clicked into basketball mode and gradually pulled away after leading 30-23 at the half.
Coach Brad Kitchens, subbing for head coach Justin Jonus, was pleased with the team for several reasons.
“With several coming back out after football and Cullman having already played a game with a big win at Brewer, I was proud of our guys for keeping their composure after getting down early,” Kitchens said.
Arab picked up the win without Colby King, who was being allowed some healing time after a rigorous season catching passes for the Knights’ football team.
“Cullman had a lot of emotion early and played well, but we whittled away at that and got the lead,” Kitchens said.
The Bearcats got a big game from sophomore Tucker Gambrill, who finished with 23 points.
“The guys played hard and with a lot of heart down the stretch,” said Kitchens.
Arab was playing determined on both ends of the court as Cullman took 20 shots from free throw line in the second half compared to Arab’s four, none in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore James Ed Johnson led the Knights with 15 points, followed by Blake Kelley with 14, Kent Tyler with nine and Brooks Malone with eight.
Cullman 56, Arab 47
In something of a see-saw game early, Cullman pulled away to get the win but the Knights were always within reach. The Bearcats led 29-23 at the half.
“It was kind of just the opposite of the varsity game,” Kitchens said. “Cullman hit a stretch in the third quarter to pull away. We fought back but couldn’t get over the top.”
Kitchens said his team just needs a little time.
“We’re still meshing together,” he said. “We’re not where we want to be but we’re going to get there. Right now we’re a work in progress to get everyone functioning together as a unit.”
Will Cavender led the Knights with 14 points, J.B. Bowman had 10 and James Wesson Johnson had nine.
Kitchens said the team has the ingredients for a good year.
“JB had a heck of a game for us. Our point guard, Will Cavender, stepped up for us and I thought for a freshman did a great job tonight.
“This is a good group and they’re going to have a good season,” he said.
9TH GRADE BOYS
Arab 33, Cullman 31
It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.
“It was ugly,” said coach Jonathan Embry. “There were not a lot of made shots in the game.”
Embry said both teams played hard but the contest came down to a play that resulted with Dakota NeSmith making a layup with two seconds to go.
“I had a lot of players come back out from football and that’s what it looked like, a lot of football players shooting 3’s, missing a lot of easy shots,” said Embry.
That doesn’t mean he was totally disappointed.
“I thought we moved the ball well and ran a good offense,” he said. “This is a good group and I’m excited about this season. We just missed a lot of open shots tonight.
“It was an ugly win but we’ll take it.”
NeSmith finished with nine points and Spencer Strickland had eight.
Cullman 64, Arab 28
With Natalie Hunt likely out for the season due to a torn ACL on the first official day of practice and Reagan Malone out with a fractured knee cap, coach Jessica Thompson is not starting the season with the lineup she or anyone else envisioned.
That made youth and inexperience quite apparent Tuesday night as senior Elizabeth Brodhage was the only Lady Knight in double figures with 11 points in a blowout loss.
With both Hunt and Malone out only days before the first game, a lot of plans had to change fast.
“Last year, they averaged 25 points a game together and we were expecting big things from them,” Thompson said.
And it wasn’t just the individual results they were achieving on the court.
“The main thing was their leadership, their hustle and they were always dependable to be out there for us, so it’s a tough blow,” Thompson said.
Malone has been cleared to practice but Thompson wants to get her back as close to 100 percent before putting her in a game situation, so that has meant a lot of movement in the lineup in the meantime.
“We’ve got some kids who can step up and do well for us but it’s a learning process,” Thompson said. “It’s tough for them figuring out what each other needs to do for the team the way things happened, especially in the first game.
“I played three sophomores a lot of minutes and Cullman put a pretty good press on the floor too.”
But, Thompson saw some good things.
“We actually had a good vibe on the floor and nobody was getting down or frustrated with each other. We’re going to get it together and be better than we were tonight.
“We can only go up,” she said.
Arab 26, Cullman 20
Things started off a bit slow, with Arab down 9-7 at the half.
“It didn’t help that we only shot two times in the first quarter, but we battled back and had a great second half,” said coach Chase Weaver.
Sydney Ferguson led the Knights with nine points and Laney Kelley added six, but the coach felt that defense was the difference in the game.
“We went from a zone to a man defense and our pressure made them turn the ball over and we got some easy shots. I thought defensively we played excellent,” he said.