Back in December, I wasn’t too thrilled about going to North Paulding High School to cover a game between a pair of struggling teams (Paulding County High and East Paulding High), especially after East Paulding blew out Paulding County in their first meeting  but I needed a story to write.

So the action got underway and the East Paulding Raiders were giving the Paulding County Patriots the business once again and Malik Rush, the Patriots’ senior point guard, wasn’t making a noticeable impact.

But there are two halves to every basketball game and in those last 16 minutes of action, Rush was the best player on the floor. The 5-9 guard started to single-handedly shred the Raiders’ full-court press. All of a sudden, Rush was finishing possessions at the rim (four straight times specifically in the third quarter) and Paulding County found itself within striking distance.

“We just came together,” Rush said. “We kept fouling in the beginning. We weren’t getting to the basket. I kept telling my team to get to the bucket because it’s easy. Once we started doing that, we started getting easy buckets at the end.”

Rush finished with a game-high 35 points, 23 after halftime, along with eight assists and four steals. Better yet, his team won 92-91.

“With their style of play, we knew it would be very important to handle the press and Malik did a great job handling the press and scoring out of it especially in the second half,” Paulding County coach Kevin Hammitt said.

As a result, I was anticipating the rematch and last meeting of the 2015-16 season between these teams on Jan. 26 and I was not disappointed. Neither was Rush, who would get the best of his rivals once more.

In the final two minutes, Rush scored seven of his final 18 points, including the game-winning layup at the buzzer.

“Our whole goal was to get him the ball and see if he can make something happen,” Hammitt said. “Luckily he got it off the bank and it went in.”

I witnessed the play from the far baseline and Rush saw a chance to get all the way to the basket from halfcourt with less than five seconds remaining.

“I thought they were going to double team me but they stayed in a zone so when they are in a zone it’s easy to attack and I just wanted to get all the way to the basket and not settle for a jumpshot,” Rush said. “It worked in my favor this time.”

So did the chance to play more basketball.

On April 13, Rush celebrated his signing to participate in more organized and official basketball at Maryville College next year.

“I decided to go to Maryville because that was really the only school that recruited me,” said Rush, who plans to major in physical education and has a 3.2 grade-point average. “While they were recruiting me, they showed me much love on my visit. Playing basketball in college has always been my dream.”

Rush averaged 16 points, five assists and four rebounds in his final season. He also left Paulding County as the all-time leader in points (952) and assists (374).

“I loved playing here,” Rush said. “I thought about going to another school after my freshman year but I’m glad I stayed. The experience was great. I got records here.”

And I got to see one of the smallest players on the court make a big impact.

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