WHITE HALL — The White Hall Bulldogs got caught scoreboard watching and it almost cost them a win on Monday night at White Hall High School.
Early in the fourth quarter, White Hall led Stuttgart by 14 points at 41-27, but had to hang on for a 55-52 win after a furious Ricebirds’ comeback.
“We got up 13, 14, 15 points and we started looking at the scoreboard,” White Hall head coach Marc Stringer said. “We stopped handling the ball and started taking bad shots.
“We basically stopped doing everything that got us the lead.”
On the other side, a seemingly dormant Stuttgart offense came to life with senior K.J. Avery leading the charge.
Avery hit three three-pointers in the fourth quarter as part of his 14-point final-quarter outburst. The senior finished with a game-high 19 points.
“He hit some big shots down the stretch,” Ricebirds head coach Lance Davis said. “On a night when most our guys were struggling, he definitely stepped up, tonight.”
The Bulldogs (1-1) were able to hold off Avery and the Ricebirds (2-1) by making just enough free throws down the stretch. Every time Stuttgart cut the lead to one possession, White Hall would knock down free throws to keep the Ricebirds at bay.
White Hall entered the fourth just 3 for 7 at the line, but connected on 10 of 15 from the charity stripe in the final quarter. The Bulldogs’ last 10 points were those 10 free throws with seven coming from J’Breun Steen, who made 7 of 9 from the line in the final quarter.
Steen went into the break with nine points, and, despite going scoreless in the third quarter, finished with a team-high 18 points. He was the only player who scored more than five points in what was a rather ugly first half.
“It was very sloppy,” Stringer said. “I was really disappointed in our effort with how sloppy it was.”
Davis was also disappointed in how his team started the game.
“We came out cold,” he said. “We were missing layups, free throws, everything.
“We dug ourselves a hole and kept battling trying to get out.”
White Hall led 10-7 after one quarter before stretching its lead to seven (23-16) by halftime. The Ricebirds narrowed the gap to four points on a couple of occasions, but the Bulldogs always had an answer and led 36-27 heading into the fourth.
White Hall’s Tyler Pirson, who finished with 11 points — all in the second half, opened the fourth quarter with five quick points on a layup and three-pointer, the latter of which looked to give the Bulldogs breathing room down the stretch.
In reality, though, the Bulldogs’ needed a deep inbounds pass of theirs, which was tipped but not intercepted by the Ricebirds’ Alante Stenary (12 points), to be completed in the game’s final few seconds before they could exhale.
Even though Stuttgart’s comeback attempt fell short, Davis was still proud of his team’s effort.
“I’m proud of the way we competed,” he said. “Just to give ourselves a chance at the end, even though we came up a little short, is encouraging.
“I’m very proud of our effort.”
Stringer didn’t waste any time in making sure the game became a teaching lesson for his team.
“That’s what I told them after the game,” he said. “A good team isn’t going to give up.
“You have to put a boot on their throat, and we’re still learning how to do that.”