December 2, 2009 8:32:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Typically, Johnathan Brandon terrorizes defenses with his long-range marksmanship.
A proficient spot-up shooter, the New Hope High School senior guard has a smooth stroke that remains in form well beyond the 3-point arc.
But something felt wrong Tuesday night.
Brandon sensed it in warmups when his shooting touch seemed cold.
But scorers find other ways to beat you.
Brandon shook off the effects a weight lifting session had on his shooting stroke and still scored a team-high 20 points to lead a balanced scoring effort in a 65-57 victory against Caledonia.
Brandon, who entered the game averaging better than 20 points per game, failed to hit a 3-pointer, but he more than made up for it by taking the ball to the basket and going hard to the offensive glass. He scored four of his points on two offensive rebounds. The putbacks were part of spirited effort on the glass that saw the Trojans (7-0) grab 20 offensive rebounds.
Brandon also scored six of his points on layups and six more on free throws as he found other ways to help his team when he couldn''t find his range from long distance.
"A bad game is a bad game," Brandon said. "We still prevailed and got through it and won, but we''re not happy with it. The New Hope program doesn''t play anything like that."
The cold feeling nearly froze his shooting touch to the point that following another missed 3-pointer with five minutes, 32 seconds left to go in the third quarter Brandon looked to the bench to teammate Raymond Walters.
Brandon pushed his arms forward and shook his head, as if to say he shouldn''t have had a weight training session. Walters knew what Brandon was referring to and mouthed from the bench, "I told you not to do it."
Brandon is focused on getting stronger to help him prepare to play basketball in college, which is why he lifted on a game day. He is confident his shooting touch will come back in part because he knows he isn''t the only player capable of scoring on the team.
Still, he would like to re-discover his shooting stroke. If it doesn''t happen right away, he can learn valuable lessons from Tuesday night.
"In warmups I was like, ''This isn''t the same shot I have been shooting the whole year,'' " Brandon said. "I try to get offensive rebounds every game, but tonight I believe God just blessed me to go outside of the box and not to be just a shooter, be an all-around player. I guess I was blessed with that today and getting offensive rebounds. That boosted my confidence a little bit."
First-year New Hope High coach Drew McBrayer, who took over the program after longtime coach Robert Byrd resigned earlier this year, said not much has changed about Trojan basketball. He said his team will need to play with a lot of energy on defense and on the offensive boards because outside of Davis Lee (12 points) and Jeremy Byrd (10) it doesn''t have a lot of size.
The Trojans more than made up for that shortage with hustle Tuesday night. In the second quarter, Lee and Jamal Richardson dove after a loose ball in the corner to force Caledonia to call a timeout. In the fourth quarter, Lee again hustled for a rebound that forced the Confederates to foul.
New Hope also used its quickness to get into the passing lanes and force turnovers that led to plenty of easy baskets.
"If there is ever a situation where we get outhustled, it is a pretty bad situation for us," McBrayer said. "We have averaged about 16 offensive rebounds a game. We''re going to have to continue to do that."
Brandon hopes the Trojans won''t have to rebound too many of his long misses from 3-point range.
"I am proud of him because he found ways to contribute more than just being a scorer," McBrayer said. "He went to the glass extremely hard tonight and did a lot of things. He got some steals and created some easy offense for us instead of just having to stand out there and catch and shoot, which has been a lot of his game this year. When people find ways to shut that down, he is going to have to find other ways to score, and he did that tonight."
New Hope built its biggest lead, 58-39, on a free throw by Byrd with 5:23 to play. But the Trojans couldn''t put the Confederates away.
Senior guard Rickey McCollum (35 points) had a lot to do with that. He hit a 3-pointer to cap a 12-point spurt that allowed Caledonia to cut the deficit to 62-54 with 1:45 remaining. Edmund Elizenberry hit 1 of 2 free throws with 1:16 to go to make it 62-55, but that was as close as the Confederates got.
"We are still trying to force the action a little bit," Caledonia coach Josh Scott said. "Coming into the game, our main focus was to slow down, slow the game down, and do things right. But it is still a rivalry and they still get overly excited sometimes. Give them credit for not getting all of the way out of it, but we sure did try a couple of times."
Scott was proud of his players for not giving up, but he acknowledged his team didn''t play its best basketball. He said the Confederates need to improve their defense if they want to be a consistent team this season.
"(Defense) is not a natural thing for some of our guys yet," Scott said. "They like offense and they play defense because they want to stay on the floor. I believe they have to learn to like. If they don''t learn to like it we''re going to be in trouble."
Scott would prefer to score 45 points a night to win instead of having to score 85 a night. He said high-scoring teams that don''t play tight defense are bound to have their best players have off shooting nights, so Scott said a stout defense would help make up for those scoring droughts.
"I want someone when they play us to say, ''We were defended all night with effort,'' and we''re not there yet," Scott said. "That''s what we''re building toward."
n New Hope 51, Caledonia 42 (G): Kelli Petty had 14 points in three quarters to help the Lady Trojans (4-3) build a big lead and hold on against the Lady Confederates (2-2).
D.J. Sanders had nine points and Rachel Hollivay and Breanna Newton each added six as New Hope opened a 45-18 lead late in the third quarter. New Hope substituted liberally in the fourth quarter, while Caledonia, led by Suriah Blanche, continued to play with energy to help make the final score competitive.
New Hope will play host to Aliceville on Friday night.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.