MURFREESBORO — If Memphis Mitchell had a weakness to exploit, Hampton left the Murphy Center after a state semifinal loss Saturday still searching for it.
The athletic Tigers stalked the Bulldogs seemingly every step of a 57-44 victory to advance to the Class A state championship.
Mitchell (29-6) will play for the title today at 5 p.m. against Meigs County (30-4), which got 30 points and 15 rebounds from 6-foot-3 Mr. Basketball finalist Levi Woods in a 57-48 win against Booker T. Washington.
How quick is Mitchell? Hampton, well coached with steady guard play, finished with 18 turnovers and three assists.
“They’ve got some athletes — unreal,” Hampton coach Ned Smith said. “(They) just keep coming off the bench. Hey, we got beat by a daggone good team. … They’re long. It’s hard to get a shot off.”
Hampton’s only chance against Mitchell was to play zone defense, and 5-foot-9 junior southpaw Naba Echols made it apparent early that wasn’t much of a chance.
“We thought that was our best shot to play zone,” Smith said. “And he made some big shots on us.”
Echols went on a personal 9-0 run with three straight 3-pointers late in the first quarter, and then skipped a pass to Jeremiah Martin to the right of the key for a buzzer-beating trey that gave Mitchell a 22-7 lead while capping a 12-0 spurt.
“We wanted to … beat them down the court before they could set up in their 2-3,” Tigers coach Faragi Phillips said. “Echols came down and made some big shots early to soften them up. We’ve seen zone a lot this year – a whole, whole lot.”
The tireless play of 6-foot-3 junior forward Stanley Valentine, not to mention a 10-0 personal foul advantage in the third quarter, helped Hampton hang around for most of three quarters. Valentine finished with game highs in points (19) and rebounds (12) and had two of Hampton’s five steals. Among his baskets were a double-clutch 15-footer and a difficult leaner from beyond the left block.
“He’s a good player,” Phillips said.
Valentine’s three-point play from the right block punctuated an 11-2 run that got Hampton within 32-27 with 5:10 left in the third quarter.
“Our kids never quit,” Smith said. “We battled and got it to five there. … Our kids played their butts off.”
Mitchell answered Valentine with a 10-0 run in which 6-foot-3 junior guard Jeremiah Martin scored the last six points, including a steal and slam dunk that made it 42-27 with 1:25 left in the third quarter.
Valentine ended the quarter with a three-point play that cut Mitchell’s lead to 42-32, but 6-foot-3 senior Cortez Wallace scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter thanks, in part, to four of Martin’s seven assists and the Tigers maintained a double-digit lead the entire quarter.
“That was one of the best teams I’ve ever played against,” Valentine said. “It felt more like playing against an AAU team. I mean, they just had athletes coming off the bench. Their inside game was tough. They had tough, quick guards.”
Senior point guard Cody McClain and promising sophomore Coby Jones struggled against pressure defense while making five turnovers apiece.
“They just kept coming at you,” McClain said. “They’d sub one every couple of minutes. I thought we played good and battled, but they are … just a heck of a team.”
Along with seven assists, Martin tallied 15 points (6-of-10 shooting) and a game-high four steals.
“Jeremiah’s our best player,” Phillips said. “But at the same time he is so unselfish it is absolutely absurd. We tend to go through him and then he opens up a lot of things for us, because he can do so much on the offensive end.”
Echols made 3 of 6 from 3-point range and finished with 14 points. He also had four assists.
Jones scored six points for Hampton, as did junior wing Cheyenne Camillo and post Tristan Robinson (five rebounds). Robinson, McClain and Cameron Crain are seniors who finished their careers with a 30-6 team.
“Cody and Tristan and Cameron — the seniors going out — I’m gonna miss them next year,” Smith said. “But they had a super season … a district championship, a region championship, substate (sectional), final four. What a way to go out. I’m really proud of them.”
Hampton’s senior class was part of four sectional games and two state semifinals.
“It was joy playing with Tristan, Cody and Crain,” Valentine said. “I mean, they’re more like big brothers than teammates. If I’m doing something wrong they’ll let me know and they’ll try to help me fix it. And Cody — the best point guard I’ve ever had and the most unselfish kid I’ve probably ever met in my life. I mean, I’m gonna miss 'em next year.”comments powered by Disqus