ECHS dominates United Bank Invitational
By By Lori Dann
The good news came in threes for the Escambia County Blue Devils last weekend. Threes, as in three-pointers.
The normally conservative ECHS offense has opened up over the last week and a half. Not coincidentally, the Blue Devils have won two tournaments during that time span, including their own.
After winning the Baker Invitational the previous week, the Blue Devils dominated the field in the second annual United Bank Invitational. ECHS defeated Flomaton 50-30 in the first round Thursday, then powered past Pace 71-51 Friday and downed Jay 63-46 in the Saturday's finals.
The Blue Devils are now 13-3 and pushing for a state ranking.
Zarahn admits, however, that the new offensive boost has certainly helped.
ECHS connected on seven three-pointers in the championship game win Saturday, and the bulk of them came early. Terrell McNeil drilled four treys in the first quarter and added one more later in the contest, while Craft added a pair of three-pointers.
McNeil scored 16 of his team-high 23 points in the opening quarter as ECHS staked a 21-11 lead.
Amazingly, McNeil wasn't the game's top scorer. That honor went to Jay's Riley Nelson, who capped off a phenomenal tournament with 27 points, including seven three-pointers.
But it wasn't enough for Jay, which saw the Blue Devils add to their lead with a 13-5 run in the second quarter, making it a 34-16 game at the half. The Royals did close to within 10 points at 51-41 with 3:24 left in the game, but Anthony McCants converted a three-point play the old-fashioned way, followed by a pair of free throws from Terrence McNeil and a three-pointer from Terrell McNeil to quickly make it 59-41.
Jay was unable to mount another run as the Blue Devils claimed the crown.
Terrell McNeil's 23-point performance solidified his choice as the tournament MVP, and he was joined on the squad by teammates Terrence McNeil, who scored 17 in the finals; Craft, who had six; and Anthony McCants, who had nine. Also scoring in the championship game were Levia Hubert, Barrett Finney, Damien Robinson and Zack Harris with two each. Finney was the top rebounder with six boards.
Joining the ECHS players on the all-tournament team were Mandell Smith of Northview; Lee Turner and Terry Carter of Flomaton; Brandon Crook and Deshon Woodson of W.S. Neal; Rory Reynolds and Ryan Ottensmyer of Gulf Breeze; Brent Langham and Jacob Hazouri of Pace; and Tobey Anthony and Riley Nelson of Jay.
The following is a summary of other ECHS and Northview action from the tournament.
ECHS 50, Flomaton 30
The Escambia County Blue Devils have been winning basketball games with defense all season, so why should it be any different when they host a tournament?
ECHS held Flomaton to just 23 percent shooting from the field (10-for-44) and forced the Hurricanes into 24 turnovers on their way to a 50-30 victory in the first round of the United Bank Invitational Thursday night.
ECHS raced to a 17-7 lead in the first quarter of the contest, then held Flomaton to a single point in the second period to push its lead to 28-8 at the half. Ricky Craft carried the Blue Devils offensively early on, hitting a couple of three-pointers as he scored 10 of the team's 17 first-quarter points.
Terrence Carter tried to bring the Hurricanes back in the second half, scoring all of his 15 points in the final two periods, but Flomaton never made a serious run. The Blue Devils maintained their 20-point cushion throughout the second half.
The victory came on a night when ECHS wasn't exactly sharp itself on the offensive end of the floor. The Blue Devils hit just 19 of their 48 field goal attempts (40 percent) and just 8 of 15 free throws (53 percent).
Craft finished with 12 points to pace ECHS, followed by Barrett Finney with nine points, Terrence McNeil with eight points and eight rebounds and Terrell McNeil with eight points and six rebounds. Also scoring were Anthony McCants with six points, Damien Robinson with three and Jonathan Brown and Billy Pettway with two each. Levia Hubert contributed seven rebounds.
Jay 76, Northview 47
Jay senior Riley Nelson put on a show Thursday night, blistering the nets for 47 points and going over the 2,000-point mark for his career.
Nelson, who is on track to become the all-time leading scorer in Jay history, equalled the scoring for the entire Northview team in the game and nearly doubled their scoring in the first quarter. He scored 20 points in the first quarter to just 11 for the Chiefs, and added three in the second, 14 in the third and 10 in the fourth.
Other Jay scorers were Tobey Anthony with 12 points; Erin Cobb with six; Daniel Smith with four; Jason Crockett with three; Travis Smith. Jared Ellis and Lee Martin with two each; and Rhett Avery with one.
ECHS 71, Pace 51
Ricky Craft went 6-for-10 from three-point range and 5-for-6 from the free throw line for a 23-point total, helping the Blue Devils blast Pace 71-51.
ECHS fell behind 15-12 early but battled back to tie the game at 27-27 by halftime, then blew the game open in the third quarter. Behind 10 points from Craft, the Blue Devils outscored Pace 26-6 during that time and cruised to the 20-point win.
Following Craft in the scoring column were Terrence McNeil with 14 points and eight rebounds; Terrell McNeil with 10 points and a team-high 10 rebounds; Barrett Finney with nine points and seven rebounds; Anthony McCants with seven points; Levia Hubert with four; and Jonathan Brown and Steven Moore with two each.
Bent Langham scored 14 points to lead Pace, while Jacob Hazouri had 12 and Tyler Lynch added 11.
Excel 71, Northview 62
Northview appeared to be on track to capture its first win of the season during its fifth-place tournament game against Excel. But the Panthers went on a 31-12 run in the third quarter to take control of the game and went on to post a 71-62 victory.
Jonathon McMillian led the way for Excel with 33 points, while Greg Crosby added 10.
Mandell Smith paced the Chiefs with 20 points, followed by Daryl Cohen with 16, Jason Gillies with 10, Ray Hale and Dustin Kelly with seven each and Christopher Maloney with two.