E.A. Sports Today

Happy homecoming

Graves brings Sacred Heart to Anniston for first time as a head coach, leaves alma mater with victory

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Sacred Heart basketball coach Ralph Graves took a walk down memory lane Saturday night.

The sights, sounds and most of the faces were just as he remembered them all those days as an Anniston player and later assistant coach. And from his perspective the results were the same, too.

Graves brought a team back to his old stomping grounds for the first time as a head coach and the top-ranked Cardinals pulled away in the second half and beat the Bulldogs 57-40.

It actually was the second time he had brought a team to the gym. The first was as an assistant at Jacksonville.

Anniston coach Torry Brown, a former Bulldog who went through the school long before Graves got there, was playing a Graves-coached team for the second time. The Cardinals played Brown’s Shelby County team in its Thanksgiving tournament when last year’s Division I signees D.J Heath and Kevion Nolan (who didn’t play in the game) were sophomores.

“We’re just happy to come back to Anniston,” Graves said. “It was a really good time, good atmosphere. I remember those days coming down the hallway … how it was when we used to come in here, and we’d come up the steps and we’d come out for warm-ups.

“We’re just glad to see that we came back here and all the crowd. It’s more like a city championship rather than a county championship.”

And they’ve played each other for a couple of those in recent years when Graves’ coach, Schuessler Ware, was sitting in the opposite chair. That was the real student-teacher game.

This game almost didn’t happen Saturday. As East Alabama Sports Today reported earlier Saturday, Anniston had originally cancelled the game over weather concerns and hoped to reschedule at a later date.

With the game off, organizers of the TV24 Holiday Showcase invited the Cardinals to play Gadsden City as a replacement for one of the teams it lost to weather concerns and they accepted. A few phone calls later and the game Anniston-Sacred Heart game was on again.

It was a low-scoring affair in the first half. Khalil Watkins’ 3-pointer at the second quarter horn gave the Cardinals (4-5) a 21-19 halftime lead and it seemed to give them the spark both teams were seeking.

The Cardinals carried that momentum into the second half, ramped up their defense to create turnovers and opened the third quarter with a 19-4 run to take control of the game.

“Our offense was stagnant,” Graves said. “We were just standing there passing the ball; we were going to pass the ball around because coach says you’ve got to passing it around. You’ve got to get good shots. That’s what the coach says, but at the end of the day as a player you have to go in there and you have to put the ball in the hoop when you get your chances. Our kids are having hard time finding that balance between when to put the foot on the pedal and when not to.

“Khalil’s 3 right there did propel us going into the half. We ended up winning that quarter, and in the third quarter we had a big defensive quarter. We talked about that in the locker room. If you come out and let Anniston just run that motion offense all day they’re going to motion you to sleep, throw it over the top and get layup after layup.”

It was the third game this year the Bulldogs (1-5) have trailed by two points or less at halftime. They’ve lost all three.

“We’ve got to finish,” Brown said. “I think right now we’re playing a half game, not a full game.”

Sacred Heart’s Alabama signee Diante Wood had 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots, but was only 3-of-14 from the line. He had 18 free-throw points (on 21 attempts) in his debut against Plainview Thursday after suffering a high ankle sprain right before the season opener.

He still looked a little reluctant to test the ankle, although he did attempt his first dunk of the season on an alley-oop pass from Murdock Simmons two minutes into the second quarter. Still, even in games Wood appears to struggle he still brings value to the lineup. “You have to respect his presence on the floor,” Graves said.

It did, however, give the Cardinals’ guards a chance to excel and Quin Riggins drew particular praise from Graves. Conversely, the Bulldogs got some strong play inside but are still looking for their guards to develop consistency.

Despite winning, Graves again made his players off-limits to media after the game. He said the practice would continue until this Cardinals team find its chemistry – and he’s confident there is plenty of time left to do so.

“We’ve got players on our team who have to understand they have to complement each other,” Graves said. “You can’t have four guys playing fast and one guy playing slow. Either all five of y’all play slow or all five play fast. It can’t be 3-2 or 4-1, you just can’t play that way, so we’ve just got to find our way and find that rhythm and that chemistry for us.

“The good thing about basketball that’s different from football, if you don’t have your chemistry in the first five games in football you might as well hang your cleats up. In basketball you have a whole season to figure that out and hopefully at the end of January you’re peaking and you have it under control so you can play at the next level.”

Sacred Heart 57, Anniston 40
Quin Riggins 2 7-8 11, Diante Wood 5 3-14 13, Vic Wilson 2 2-2 8, Jack Miller 0 0-0 0, Murdock Simmons 6 0-0 12, Caleb Brown 1 0-0 2, Joshua Brown 0 0-0 0, Stephen Stansil 0 0-0 0, Khalil Watkins 4 2-2 11. Totals 20 14-26 57.

ANNISTON (1-5) – Savion Bethune 2 1-3 6, James Haynes 1 2-2 5, Jimme Felton 0 0-0 0, Kwame Milton 0 0-0 0, William Fairley 0 0-0 0, Dontavious Davis 7 0-2 14, Hunter Rouse 1 0-0 2, LaDreka Hall 3 1-2 7, Theron Montgomery 2 0-2 4, Chance Young 1 0-2 2. Totals 17 4-13 40.

Sacred Heart 10 11 23 13 — 57
Anniston 9 10 9 12 — 40

3-point goals: Sacred Heart 3 (Wilson 2, Watkins); Anniston 2 (Bethune, Haynes). Fouled out: Bethune. Total fouls: Sacred Heart 16, Anniston 20. Officials: Walker, Lemon, Wood.

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