SAKS — Michelle Morgan has a tough free throw routine during practice. During the first 40 minutes, her Saks girls basketball players will run through an offense for five minutes before doing a three-man weave and concluding by shooting free throws.
If a player hits 10 straight free throws, Morgan knocks off a sprint. If someone knocks down 15 straight foul shots, they won’t have to run at all. Only one player has accomplished — Miracle Dennard.
Against Class 5A Etowah on Friday night, Dennard — Morgan’s lone senior this season — knocked down 15 of 20 free throws en route to a 28-point, 14-steal performance to lead the Wildcats to a 53-43 win. Dennard also brought down six rebounds and dished out three assists in more than 30 minutes of game action.
“(Miracle) just stepped up and was a leader tonight,” Morgan said. “She’s been doing it little by little each game. She’s very quiet and super shy. She leads by example, but I’ve been trying to get her to do it by speaking, too.”
While Dennard made only 6 of 13 from the field, one of her more important baskets came when she knocked down her lone 3-point attempt. It answered Etowah, which had taken a 29-27 lead on a Kynzlan Gibbs’ 2-point shot in the closing minutes of the third quarter.
The senior-led performance continued into the fourth when Dennard scored 12 of her points, including a steal and uncontested layup with under a minute left to play. The basket extended the Wildcats’ lead to seven before Dennard connected on a pair of free throws to make it 10 with 40 seconds left.
“Nothing really goes through my mind when I’m shooting free throws for real,” Dennard said. “I just look at the middle of the goal and put it in. Tonight, I was just being me.”
Saks’ other top performers:
—Takeidra Borden, 11 points, one steal
—DeAvian Stewart, four points, one block
—Teana Edwards, 13 rebounds, four steals, two points
Etowah’s top performers:
—Gibbs, eight points, six rebounds
—Z’Nya Manning, eight points, two assists
—Za’Nya Mckenzie, eight points, two steals
Etowah boys 58, Saks 52: Saks had its opportunities to knock off the No. 8 team in Class 5A, but “poor decisions” led to Etowah coming back from a 27-25 deficit and taking control during the second half.
“I thought, really, we just didn’t play well in the third quarter and that’s what turned the tide of the game,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said as the Wildcats concluded their regular season. “I thought we played hard in the first half, but not very smart. To be honest, we were up two at the half and, probably, should’ve been up more but made some poor decisions. In the third and the fourth, (Etowah’s) size got us a little, but our decision making has to improve.”
After falling behind 10-5 midway through the first quarter, Saks responded with a 2-point shot by Darien Briskey, a 3-point basket by Laderrick Bell and a 3-point shot by Devaughn Beason to take the lead. The Wildcats took that lead and expanded it out to 23-14 following another basket by Beason midway through the season.
The Blue Devils turned the tables at the start of the third quarter when Alec Timmons made a layup to tie the game, before a 3-point basket by Derickey Wright gave Etowah the lead outright. Saks managed to tie the game at 32 minutes later, but a 3-point shot by Timmons gave Etowah a lead it never let out the rest of the way.
Etowah’s top performers:
—Timmons, 15 points, six rebounds
—Wright, 13 points, 12 rebounds
—Jamen Graham, 12 rebounds, eight rebounds
Saks’ top performers:
—Beason, 19 points, five rebounds, five steals
—Bell, 12 points, three rebounds
—Briskey, 12 rebounds, nine points, five assists