FULTON – New Tremont basketball coach Brian Pearson got his first in-game look at the Eagles last Thursday as they took on Hamilton, Ala., in the ICC summer basketball league.
After trailing 19-17 at the end of the first of two 20-minute halves, Tremont began to lean on their big men, Daniel Sturdivant and Cody North, to pull ahead early in the second. Later, clinging to a 33-31 lead with 13.1 seconds remaining, point guard Steven Peden hit two clutch free throws to secure a 35-31 victory.
“I thought our guys played hard for the most part, but I think we have a lot of work to do defensively,” Pearson said. “We didn’t rebound very well, but we never quit playing and made some free throws at the end that helped us.”
Tremont sophomore Walker Adams hit a mid-ranger jumper and a three-pointer early to give the Eagles a 9-5 lead, but turnovers and mental errors kept Hamilton hanging around in a contest that, on the surface, appeared to greatly favor Tremont in terms of raw talent.
The Eagles struggled to feed Sturdivant and North inside, allowing the Aggies to take advantage of inconsistent scoring to rally and surge ahead by as many as five points late in the first half.
“If we had been able to get the ball inside more, it probably wouldn’t have been as close down the stretch,” Pearson said. “We have got to find ways to get them more feeds inside the paint because both of them are very good scoring around the basket.”
After trailing by two points at the break, the Eagles began to get their feet under them in the second half. Back-to-back baskets in the paint by Sturdivant and North quickly led to the final lead change of the night.
Tremont was able to hold a slim one basket lead down the stretch but was unable to pull away as the guards continued to struggle getting the ball inside, and were bothered by the Hamilton defense when shooting from the outside.
“We have got to get (the guards) believing in the fact that if we can establish our inside game first, it will allow them very easy looks from the outside,” Pearson said. “They can shoot the basketball, but we got to be confident that if we get established inside and get people collapsing on our bigs, that we will have easy shots for our guys on the outside.”
A Hamilton runner with 16 seconds remaining made it a one possession contest. Needing a basket to put it away, Peden was fouled driving the lane and stepped to the free throw line for a 1-and-1. One of the team’s leaders, Peden sank both shots to put his team up by four and the game out of reach for the Aggies.
Sturdivant and North notched 10 points each to pace the Eagles, while Adams and Peden each contributed 7 points to the effort.
Increasing team chemistry and adapting to a new coach will undoubtedly take time for the Eagles, but Coach Pearson wants to make sure that although suffering through the growing pains will take hard work, the team doesn’t lose sight of what brought them to the hardwood in the first place: love of the game.
“I told them the second or third practice that I want this to be fun,” Pearson said. “I want them to look forward to coming out here and playing. We wanted to get in as many games as we could. We have a pretty full slate… It’s good to get them out here and playing games instead of just going against each other in the gym.”