Saginaw Buena Vista has been known to be an intimidating setting for opponents to enter, but no one bothered to tell that visiting Warren DeLaSalle prior to Friday night's contest. The Pilots looked as if they were the home team in the early going, using their patented full-court press to force the Knights into turnover after turnover. Tory Jackson, who was slightly favoring his injured ankle ankle, deferred to his teammates for practically the entire first half and netted only eight points prior to the intermission. Pilots scoring star Keith Mackenzie didn’t fare much better early on. That said, he didn’t have to. Despite getting only six points from their leading scorer (Mackenzie came into the contest averaging 27.5 ppg), the Pilots parlayed a number of easy basket opportunities into a 26-18 halftime lead.
DeLaSalle came out the locker room and hit four quick points in the first minute and a half to extend the lead to 30-18. A few more turnovers by the Knights during that same timeframe had many in the crowd believing their young Buena Vista team would lose this one by double digits. Moments later, however, they were reminded they are never out of a game when #23 is on the court.
Tory with the runner
After yet another Knight turnover, Jackson refused to quit on an easy lay-up opportunity for the Pilots. A DeLaSalle player beat his man to the bucket on the break, but Jackson came knifing in and launched himself into the air for a huge rejection at the 6:15 mark in the third period. There was a noticeable difference in the young man after that. He began to play with an abandon that wasn’t there in the first half. All signs of favoring the ankle were gone. It isn’t clear whether the block immediately fired his teammates up, but it certainly did Jackson.
The next time down the court Jackson ended a three minute Buena Vista scoring drought with a runner in the lane to make the score 30-20. DLS answered with a quick bucket, but that only made Jackson more determined. He busted out eight straight points, including two threes, to make the score 32-38 with three minutes left in the third.
After TJ's mini-run, DLS began to pay even more attention to him than they had been previously. They often ran two and three players after him in attempts to slow him down. Jackson responded by twice finding open teammates for easy baskets to send the Knights into the final stanza trailing by only two points (34-32).
TJ from deep!
Buena Vista picked up right where they left off at the start of the fourth when Kyle Watson knocked down a shot in close to knot the score at 34. DLS regained the lead shortly after, but Jackson got it right back for the Knights when he came down on the break, delivered a nice spin move to get into the lane, and found a wide open teammate going to the bucket to make the score 38-37. That marked the home team's first lead of the game.
Mackenzie nailed a shot down low on the other end to continue the seesaw battle, but no matter what they tried, they couldn’t stop Jackson. He had a hand in Buena Vista's next six points (4 of which he scored on his own) to gain a 44-41 advantage with just under five minutes to go.
That outburst seemed to bring a dormant Mackenzie to life. Over the next two minutes he scored nine unanswered points on three 3-pointers to take a 50-44 lead with 2:40 left on the clock. Now the game of one-upsmanship was on!
Mackenzie (left) and Jackson square off
Jackson ended the second scoring drought of the night with a big three pointer of his own, before Mackenzie responded with a deuce to make the core 52-47 with 2 minutes to go. All that had transpired up to that point set the stage for what COULD have been one of the biggest plays of the game.
Jackson came down and dribbled through what seemed to be an army of purple and yellow (DLS’s colors). Once he found an open spot at the top of the key, he rose up for a shot from behind the arc. On the way up, though, he was hit on the arm. He readjusted in the air, released the shot, and found nothing but the bottom of the net. The crowd went bananas! What they didn’t know at the time was the referee called the foul on the ground. The three was waived off and Jackson was forced to settle for two free throws. He sunk both to trim the lead to three with 1:49 remaining.
Buena Vista’s defensive intensity really picked up after that, and they forced Mackenzie into a turnover on the other end. The Knights went right back to Jackson the next time down the court and he delivered with a jumper from the elbow to cut the DLS lead to 1. Then, after the Pilots in-bounded the ball, Jackson sped in from behind and poked it loose to one of his teammates. He got the ball back and laid it in to take a 53-52 lead with 1 minute remaining.
An unfazed DeLaSalle team got a big bucket in the post to re-take the lead…leaving Jackson to bring his team back one more time.
The 5-10, 170-lb. guard took the inbound pass and raced up court, but was ridden out of bounds with 35.9 seconds left on the clock. He went to the line and connected on one of two at the line to knot the score at 54.
In a game that had everything up to that point, observers should have expected a dramatic finish. The Knights hawked their counterparts over the court and forced them to bleed 28 seconds before Jackson used the one foul his team had left to give. With only seven seconds remaining, the Pilots threw the ball in and then tried to find Mackenzie. He was well covered by Jackson, which prevented the pass from going to him right away. In desperation, however, the ball was thrown to the DLS sharpshooter. Jackson went for the pass and got a hand on it, but it rolled right to Mackenzie in the corner. Another BV player ran in to get a hand in his face, but he was able to launch it right before the final buzzer. It found nothing but the bottom of the net and the Pilots ran off of the court with the 57-54 victory!
Mackenzie’s 16 second half points earned him a team high 22 for the game. Jackson’s 24 second half points made the game’s leading score with 32 points. He also had seven assists.
Buena Vista coach Chris Chaffer was disappointed in the outcome, but indicated that there were definitely things his team could take away from the game. “We made some errors in not coming out to close them out and not communicating on defense,” Chaffer said. “That cost us. It’s a learning experience. I think that we can’t wait to give the effort we did the last quarter and a half. We can’t wait to give that effort on the defensive end. That’s a good team, they play a very difficult style of basketball and they are well coached. You look at this as a motivational tool and a learning experience, but they have to put this behind them. They aren’t down and I was pleased with the way they fought back. They showed some character out there on he floor.”
No player showed more character than Jackson. He offered this to his teammates following the game. “We have to pick our heads up,” he said. “It’s one loss, not the whole season. We’ll be alright.”
We'll have more on Jackson, including quotes and photos, tomorrow.