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TYRONE (GA) – The distance between Sandy Creek High and McIntosh High is just 6.9 miles along State Route 74. But on the first Tuesday of 2018, the separation between the Patriots and Chiefs was much larger on the basketball court.
With TJ Bickerstaff leading all players in points (23) and rebounds (12), Sandy Creek dominated its Fayette County neighbor McIntosh 76-53 at home.
Xavier Brewer scored 15 points and Jarred Godfrey added 12 for the Patriots, who executed very well on offense while limiting the Chiefs’ dribble drive-and-dish game plan.
“What we had on the whiteboard for the game plan they listened to and the whole thing was to make sure they didn’t get open 3’s,” Sandy Creek coach Jon-Michael Nickerson said. “We were willing to give up 2’s. We weren’t wiling to give up 3’s and give them catch-and-shoot looks. We would bluff at them and stunt at them but the kids just listened to the game plan.”
Fellow senior Kameron Miller didn’t have the impact of putting the ball in the basket himself but the point guard did hand out seven assists and grab six rebounds in the team’s ninth win of the season.
“Kameron’s our best offensive rebounder for a guard,” Nickerson said. “He’s relentless. He’s a pit bull and every program needs a guy like that.”
When McIntosh’s offense was effective, Chaz Hardin made it look good since he finished with a team-high 17 points. Fellow 6-7 senior Cole Guenther showed flashes as well but scored just eight points.
Based upon both teams’ records and state rankings, this contest was expected to be close throughout but that only proved true during the first few minutes. Bickerstaff and Brewer both scored layups, and Godfrey nailed a 3-pointer during an 8-0 run to help Sandy Creek enter the second quarter with a 19-11 edge.
The Patriots started the ensuing frame with a 9-2 burst and eventually headed to the locker room ahead 40-21. Early in the third quarter, Brewer’s one-handed dunk and Bickerstaff’s acrobatic reverse layup gave the home fans more to cheer about and the Patriots a cushion of more than 20 points the rest of the way.
“TJ was committed to finishing and being a man at the rim,” Nickerson said. “That is something we focus on daily with him. Just because you are big and skilled and can handle the ball doesn’t mean you have to be a perimeter player all the time. You got to be as versatile as possible–expose mismatches and he did that.”
Bickerstaff converted eight layups and shot 5-of-9 from the free-throw line.