Lions squash Chicks 64-60
Manila spoiled David Hixson's return to the Blytheville bench Tuesday night, and new Lions coach Bill Taylor inched closer to
career win 600 as the 3A school knocked off the Chicks, 64-60.
The win is believed to be Manila's first over Blytheville in the modern era.
"It's a very good win," said Taylor, who picked up win No. 595 and moved the Lions to 7-0 in handing the Chicks a season-opening loss. "I'm not going to lie. Coach Hixson is an awesome coach, and this is a great program. If it says Blytheville on the front, and you beat them, you've done something. We are very proud of this win."
Blytheville may have been the larger school, but Manila had the bigger team.
And the Lions had best player on the floor, literally the entire night.
Kam Ashabranner, the 6'3" junior point guard, controlled the game, pouring in a team high 19 points, swiping some big steals and dumping it down low to 6'8" Garrett Scott and 6'5" Levi Wallace.
Ashabranner's steal and old-fashion three-point play with about three minutes left capped an 8-0 run that gave the Lions the largest lead of the back-and-forth game, 57-48.
"Kam was taking it strong to the basket," Taylor said. "He did a good job running our offense, played 32 minutes. He did a good job staying on the attack, not playing sideways. He was going to the rim. I thought Garrett Scott, offensively, inside was big, and then Levi Wallace on the defensive boards, it seemed like he got a lot of rebounds. "
Hixson, who missed last season with hip surgery, was impressed with Ashabranner, who worn down arguably Blytheville's best player, Brandon Thompson. Thompson had a team-high 19 points, but spent much of the night chasing Ashabranner.
"He's a good player -- that's a good basketball team, a very good basketball team, well-coached," Hixson said. "It's a classic example of them knowing themselves and us trying to find ourselves. When it got down to it, they made plays, and they did it in a way that it's almost like they've done it before, where we were kind of struggling and still trying to figure out what to do and when to do it. They clicked on all cylinders, and we didn't have an answer for it at critical times. I thought the kids played hard."
Already at a size disadvantage, Blytheville played most of the game without its biggest available player -- 6'2' Chardrick Mitchell, who has been hampered by a leg injury. Mitchell is the only current Chickasaw to log varsity minutes last year. The Chicks' most consistent post player on the night, Danny Lee, who finished with 16 points, got in foul trouble in the second half.
Manila took advantage of the absences on offense and defense, creating problems with its 1-3-1 zone.
"The bigs stepped up and did their thing down the stretch," Taylor said. "I thought Levi's rebounding in the first half, then Garrett Scott's offensive put backs and tip-ins were really good for us."
Wallace had nine of his 13 points in the second half, while Scott finished with 11, mostly coming only stickbacks. Junior guard J.J. Helton, the other Lion in double figures with 13, also made some big plays, including an old-fashioned three-point play on a break-away layup with 1:04 left, moments after the Chicks had cut the lead to five.
"Their two bigs did a good job, and they did it at opportune times," Hixson said. "Their guard play was exceptional, and it certainly started with Ashabranner. He's a phenomenal player and makes everybody around him better. He's an outstanding guard, especially a guy his size that can play the point, pass it, shoot it and everything. We knew that he was the catalyst coming in."
Until the fourth quarter, neither team had led by more than four points with the lead changing hands 15 times and 11 ties in the contest.
Blytheville was up, 44-41, going into the final period, but Ashabranner gave the Lions a two-point edge early in the period by burying a three from the corner.
After the Chicks pulled even at 46-all, Scott gave Manila a lead it wouldn't relinquish, scoring and drawing a foul with 4:44 left. The old-fashioned three-point play put the Lions up, 49-46. Jimmy Aldridge answered with two of his 11 points.
Then, Manila pulled away.
Scott's putback with 4:03 left started an 8-0 run that gave the Lions some breathing room.
Aldridge swiped a steal and scored with 1:14 left to trim the lead to 57-52, but the Chicks could get no closer as Manila built the lead back up to nine.
Thompson's three with 34 seconds left kept it interesting at 61-55, and the Chicks forced the Lions to take back-to-back timeouts after they struggled to get it out of the backcourt. But Manila held on for the win.
"It's a good game for us, just to be able to come in and play a team with good athletes like that," Taylor said. "I was proud of my guys. We fought hard. We had some things that didn't go well, but all in all it was a good win for our team."
Hixson said his club is still trying to find its niche.
"It's a long season," the veteran coach said. "You learn from what you see. I told them you got beat by a good basketball team. They've got a great basketball tradition. No reason to hang your head. A team that came in with some really great game experience. We saw some things from some kids that we were hoping to see. There's some positives out of this. We knew that we were going to struggle early, just because of trying to find the right people at the right places in the right positions. We'll still be searching."
The Lions exploited Blytheville's lack of size most of the night.
"Even in times we were in position, they got it over the top of us," Hixson said. "That's going to be the way it is. We're going to have to find our identity. We're going to have to find things we can do that will offset size because we're going to see it all the time."
He added the Lions' 1-3-1 gave his club problems.
"We're not great shooters, we don't have an inside presence," Hixson said. "We've got to outquick people. We got them in the positions to do that, but we got real tentative when we got the ball at the high post. We were trying to get it to the high post, and we thought we could get by their big one and get in between. But we didn't do that. We got a little impatient early, kids trying to make plays."
The game was tied 18-18 at the end of the first quarter, but Blytheville grabbed a 28-27 lead at halftime despite 11 first-half points from Ashabranner.
Manila led by as much as five in a sea-saw third quarter before the Chicks used 14-6 run to take a three-point into the final frame.
Behind Thompson, Lee and Aldridge, Raymond Golphin scored six, Miles Hooks four and Tevin Jackson and Ke'Andre Diamond two apiece.
Blake Wheeler added eight points for Manila.
The Chicks will try to bounce back Thursday night, when they host Osceola in junior varsity and varsity contests, the first tipping off at 6 p.m.
Blytheville 38, Manila 30
The junior varsity Chicks held off Manila, 38-30, after opening up a big lead early in the game.
The Chicks were ahead 16-2 at the end of the first quarter and led 24-10 at half. Blytheville's advantage was 34-15 going into the fourth quarter, when the Lions made a run.
Golphin paced Blytheville with 10 points, while Marques Coleman added six.
Dillon Burrow led Manila with 10, while Jared Burks added eight.