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FARMVILLE — With just two points to his name Monday afternoon, Beddingfield High senior guard Jatavis Highsmith characterized his play as “sluggish” and his demeanor as “disappointed” in the wake of the Bruins’ 74-72 victory over North Lenoir in the opening game of the Martin Luther King Jr. Invitational at Farmville Central.
Sluggish was an apt description of Beddingfield’s approach to matters in the first half and the early portion of the third quarter, as the Bruins fell down by as many as 21 points on two occasions.
However, Highsmith and his Beddingfield teammates weren’t done during an unconventional playing time for high school basketball. The 2-A Eastern Plains Conference Bruins (7-7) used an aggressive, trapping defense to gradually whittle away at the deficit, and in the final seconds, Highsmith made his only imprint in the scorebook the most significant.
With 8.9 seconds to play in regulation of a tie game, North Lenoir attempted to push the ball up the floor, only to have it deflected at midcourt by Beddingfield senior Avery Huggins. Nathan Coley gathered it and pushed it to Huggins, who turned down a 3-pointer at the elbow and zipped a pass cross-court to Highsmith. Initially fumbling the ball toward the baseline, Highsmith picked it up and quickly put up a high-arcing fallaway with two-tenths of a second left.
It stayed on line and swished through the net, setting off a jubilant Beddingfield celebration that moved it to 2-2 this season in games decided by a possession or less. North Lenoir, affiliated with the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference, fell to 4-10.
“First off, credit to my boys Avery and Nate for getting the steal and looking up,” Highsmith reviewed. “But I thought Avery was going to take the shot, because him and Nate, they were the hot hands tonight. But when I saw the ball come my way, I was surprised, because I was missing. I caught the ball, turned around and just shot it. And it went down.”
Huggins and Coley were instrumental in Beddingfield’s comeback from 21 down, with Huggins notching another double-double with 20 points, 16 rebounds and six blocked shots in his return to the lineup. Coley had five 3-pointers, four of those coming in the second half to help continue the run and fuel the trap in the short corner after makes. North Lenoir willingly inbounded in the corner frequently in the direction of the Bruins’ bench, making the Hawks the perfect foils for giveaways. Coley had 19 for Beddingfield, 16 of that total coming in the second half.
Beddingfield kept the trapping going despite a seven-man rotation and the Hawks occasionally breaking it for easy layups.
While the trap is in Beddingfield’s arsenal, its neighborhood of residence hasn’t lent itself to excessive usage.
“It’s hard to do that in our conference a lot with SouthWest, Farmville and other teams that have the ball handers,” Beddingfield head coach Jeremy Howard said. “But we knew it was our go-to at this point, especially trailing by 21 in the third quarter. It was what we had to go to to have a chance to win the ballgame, and it worked out.”
Huggins picked up his fourth personal foul on a charge in the final minute of the third quarter and made it to the end without disqualification.
Coley’s layup with 1:16 remaining brought Beddingfield to within one at 70-69. North Lenoir turned it over on a walk, and Huggins drew the fifth personal foul on the Hawks’ Trevor Sears. He hit one of two at the line to tie it with 44.9 seconds left, and North Lenoir led again at 72-70 once Nyjai Koonce knocked down a pair of free throws.
The Bruins grabbed multiple offensive rebounds in the final seconds to stay alive, culminating in Huggins being fouled under the basket. He hit the first and withstood North Lenoir taking a timeout prior to the second, tying it for the final time and setting up the frantic final sequence.
“My first thought was we were getting ready to lose a close one because Avery, as the anchor (in the trap), stepped up, and there was a guy wide open behind him,” Howard said. But Avery, at 6-5 and very court aware, put his hands up. I knew he had deflected it. We picked it up, and I wanted Avery to just get to the rim. He spotted ‘Bill’ (Highsmith) on the other side. I thought we were headed to overtime — even as the ball was in the air. But the more I looked at the ball, I saw it was going toward the rim, and it went straight through there. After so many close losses, we’ll take a close win.”
Four Bruins finished in double figures, including 14 points from junior Kaleb Harris and 11 by junior Raekwon Batts. Trey Hawkins had 21 for North Lenoir, as the Hawks’ guard play gave the Bruins first-half issues and forced Beddingfield to settle for jumpers away from Huggins and Harris inside.
The result allowed North Lenoir to build a 35-20 halftime lead after Brandon Brooks got a half-court heave to drop at the second-quarter buzzer.
Yet the Bruins didn’t allow that shot to define their afternoon, instead watching their own rainbow from above softly drop through the net as time expired.
Was it a prayer answered?
“Everybody knows about me and my faith,” Howard said. “I’m a true believer. He doesn’t care who wins basketball games, but I think maybe He knew that we’ve lost a lot of close ones lately, and it rained in there tonight!”
NORTH LENOIR (72)
Koonce 20, Gatling 7, Sears 9, Brooks 9, Brown 4, Wooten 2, Hawkins 21.
Huggins 20, Highsmith 2, Coley 19, Harris 14, Hutcherson 5, Batts 11, Edwards 3.
Score by quarters:
North Lenoir 15 20 24 13 — 72
Beddingfield 10 10 29 25 — 74