E.A. Sports Today

Cardinals follow the leader

Senior point strategically comes off the bench in the second half to lead Sacred Heart’s comeback against 7A Gadsden City

D.J. Heath, shown in Monday's game against Mae Jemison, came off the bench Thursday to spark Sacred Heart's comeback against Gadsden City. (Photos by Kristen Stringer/KrispPics Photography)

D.J. Heath, shown in Monday’s game against Mae Jemison, came off the bench Thursday to spark Sacred Heart’s comeback against Gadsden City. (Photos by Kristen Stringer/KrispPics Photography)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

ANNISTON (Nov. 17) — D.J. Heath is undeniably the leader of the Sacred Heart basketball team on and off the basketball court.

The Cardinals are a decidedly different team when he is on the floor than when he is not.

That was evident once again Thursday night when the senior point guard did not play the first half against 7A Gadsden City but he did play the entire second and rallied the Cardinals in an 80–75 win at Miller Gym that was their first of the season.

Heath did not play the first half for what coach Ralph Graves called “team reasons.” When Heath was inserted in the second half he provided the floor leadership followers of Sacred Heart have come to expect.

He scored 22 points — 15 in the fourth quarter and the Cardinals’ last eight of the game — but he was also a steadying influence on the floor. He even showed his vocal leadership with an inspiring speech during a timeout at the most critical point in the game.

“He is the leader,” Graves said. “A lot of times people will forget that because a lot of people are shadowed by how many points one scores or who dunks the ball or who had the spectacular play, but when you take that point guard off the floor and having that mental toughness to take care of the ball, put people where they need to be when they need to be there, make a play, score when you have to, rebound it when you have to, defend when you have to, that’s what that kid does.

“For him to do that for us (Thursday), I guess everybody got to see it and hopefully they can learn to appreciate it.”

With Heath off the floor, the Cardinals had some trouble controlling the ball early in the game. The Titans scored 10 points off Sacred Heart turnovers in the first quarter to build a 19-13 lead. They also scored the last two baskets of the half off Sacred Heart turnovers after the Cardinals got it back to 32-31.

The Cardinals trailed by nine in the third quarter before mounting their comeback. Kevion Nolan, in his first game since signing with Samford Wednesday, gave the Cardinals their first lead of the game when he finished off a 2-on-1 break with Diante Wood to make it 70-69 with 4:37 to play.

The lead swung back and forth over the next two minutes until Heath gave Sacred Heart the lead for good on a layup from under the basket and one with 2:01 to play.

Somewhere in there Heath delivered the message that got them going.

“He told them in the huddle, ‘Dude, we’ve got to grow up,’” Graves said. “We understand all the flash and all the hype. Hype doesn’t win any games. All the flash doesn’t win any games. Talent doesn’t win any games; talent’s not enough.

“When you’ve got kids who are ready to strap up, outhustle and outwork you, I don’t care how talented you are, it ain’t going to work.”

And that’s where the Heath element comes into the picture. Graves could have started Heath and played him in the first half when things weren’t going well, but he wanted to get newcomer Khalil Watkins more comfortable playing with the veterans and he wanted Nolan on the ball a little more.

It was a bit sloppy at times, but the coach was sticking by his guns.

“On the basketball court we just can’t (only) depend on Dontavious Heath,” Graves said. “Not only do the people on the outside don’t appreciate it, our kids on our team don’t appreciate what he does, because the things that he does don’t get headlines. His maturity and his toughness is what makes him really good.

“We’ve got to get our kids tough; we’ve got to get them tough. Right now we’re too pretty and I don’t like that at all, because that’s not who we are and that’s not who we’re going to be. It’s just not what it is.”

Heath did not speak to reporters after the game.

The Cardinals probably could have been up a lot more a lot earlier if they made free throws. They were 17 of 34 in the game, but were 10 for 21 in the fourth quarter.

After his team’s loss to 5A Mae Jemison Monday night in Huntsville, its second loss in the final minute in four days, Graves talked about his team needing to learn how to close games. Once they grabbed the lead this time, they kept it. Heath scored the Cardinals’ last eight points of the game, including a three-point play with four seconds left that sealed it.

“We don’t have any problem when we’re behind; we play hard when we’re behind,” Graves said. “We’ve got the fight in us, we’ve just got to have the poise to finish even when you’re up. And they did. They showed some maturity there, for a while, especially in the second half. D.J. really took the game over, him and Diante. That was huge for our boys.”

Sacred Heart 80, Gadsden City 75

GADSDEN CITY (2-3) – Derek Wright 1 2-2 4, Jalen Brewster 6 4-4 18, Deonte Jones 7 4-4 20, Jacquez King 0 1-2 1, Kameron Burnett 5 2-4 12, Darien Hollis 3 0-0 6, Mykel Woods 1 0-0 2, Dee Pearson 6 0-0 12. Totals 29 13-16 75.

SACRED HEART (1-1) – Diante Wood 6 1-9 13, Murdock Simmons 2 0-0 5, D.J. Heath 5 11-17 22, Dakota Myers 0 0-0 0, Stephen Stansil 3 0-0 7, Kevion Nolan 7 3-6 20, Khalil Watkins 5 2-2 12, Totals 28 17-34 80.

Gadsden City 19 17 25 14 — 75
Sacred Heart 13 18 25 24 — 80

3-point goals: Gadsden City 4 (Brewster 2, Jones 2); Sacred Heart 7 (Simmons, Heath, Stancil, Nolan 3, Watkins). Fouled out: Wright, Brewster, Woods, Simmons. Total fouls: Gadsden City 23, Sacred Heart 18. Officials: Hunter Allen, Amato Ortiz, Licretia Bentley.

Khalil Watkins (L) drives past Gadsden City's Dee Pearson in the first half Thursday night. Watkins drew the start so he could gain confidence playing with the Sacred Heart veterans and scored 12 points in the victory. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/KrispPics Photography)

Khalil Watkins (L) drives past Gadsden City’s Dee Pearson in the first half Thursday night. Watkins drew the start so he could gain confidence playing with the Sacred Heart veterans and scored 12 points in the victory. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/KrispPics Photography)

You must be logged in to post a comment Login