Fulton’s first-half showing was golden
By Steve Williams
It’s rare when you don’t see Jody Wright growl at some point in a game.
But when the Fulton High coach was watching his team play Haywood in the BlueCross Basketball Championships on March 18, he had no reason to be upset, particularly in the opening half.
His Falcons put together a first-half performance that may rank among the best ever in the history of the TSSAA boys state tournament, which began in 1921.
Much of the opening two periods Jody stood in front of his bench relaxed as he watched his team at work. One had to believe he was thrilled on the inside and very proud at what he was seeing.
Wright said it was “the best first half” he’s seen from one of his teams at the state.
“We had a really good half here in 2009 against Booker T. Washington with James Gallman and Jalen Steele and those guys, but I don’t know that we’ve had a half like this.
“As a coach, it’s pleasing when you can have a half like that on the brightest stage.”
This reporter noted “perfect start” when Haywood Coach Rodney Chatman immediately called a timeout with 6:03 on the clock after the Falcons hit a 3-pointer for an early 8-2 lead.
The Falcons went on to leave the Tomcats behind by 26 points (45-19) at halftime en route to an 82-52 victory in the Class 3A state title game at MTSU’s Murphy Center in Murfreesboro.
It was Fulton’s fourth title in nine state championship appearances under Wright and that gives the Falcons (32-5) more gold balls than any other school in East Tennessee. Fulton also earned a state runner-up trophy in 1962 under Coach Bob Fry in the days before classification.
Haywood finished 30-6.
In the dominating first half, Wright saw his starters shoot a scorching 72 percent from the field (18 of 25), 70 percent from 3-point range (7 of 10) and 100 percent from the free throw line (2 of 2).
Forward Taj Kimber went 5-for-5 from the field, power forward Tyler Lee 4-for-4, guard Marcellus Jackson 4-for-6, point guard Denaj Kimber 4-for-8 and guard Dexter Lewis 1-for-2.
Behind the 3-point line, the 6-5 Lee led the way, making all three of his attempts, and his teammates were a combined 4-for-7.
The Haywood coach said it was like “they were throwing a rock in the ocean. They can really shoot it.
“We preached about it before the game. Those twins and Lee get to their spots real good and make shots.
“By far,” added Chatman, “this is the best team we’ve played all year.”
Fulton had nearly a 4 to 1 assist to turnover ratio (11-3) in the opening 16 minutes, too. The twins, Denaj and Taj, each had three of the assists.
Defensively, Jackson had three of his team’s five steals by halftime. The Falcons also turned over the Tomcats three other times in the first half by drawing offensive charges and two more times by producing five-second closely guarded violations.
Wright said his team played well on “both ends” of the floor. “We shot the ball at a high level. The plan was to attack through the paint and I thought we did that. We set up some stuff on the perimeter. We were 7 of 10 from the 3-point line, but the big thing too was we held those guys to 19 points. I thought it was a really good half of basketball.”
Taj Kimber finished the game with 26 points and almost tied a 45-year-old state record. His 12-for-13 shooting accuracy from the field was just one shot off the state record (12-for-12) set in 1978.
Lee, named the tourney’s MVP, added 17 points and seven rebounds. Denaj Kimber contributed 14 points and six assists. Jackson chipped in 12 points to go with his defensive play.
Tylon Chatman, a 6-foot senior guard and son of the Haywood coach, totaled a game-high 32 points on 12-for-28 shooting from the field, including 5-for-16 from 3-point land. No other Tomcat scored in double digits, although 6-7 power forward Janerus Snipe had eight points and six boards.
Not surprisingly, Fulton’s marksmanship on 3-pointers dropped after intermission (1-for-4), but its overall field goal percentage remained high at 59 percent (17-for-29). Overall, the Falcons finished the game shooting 64.8 percent from the field, 57.1 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent at the free throw line.
Fulton outscored Haywood 19-9 in the third period for a commanding 64-28 lead.
The Falcons coasted the rest of the way until Wright unloaded the bench with 1:03 left, so five of his reserves could get a taste of playing in a state finale and his starters could bask in the fans’ standing ovation.