- Ocala, FL. Written by Kyrin Mayfield.
On a day honoring one of the greatest civil rights activists of all time, the Martin Luther King Jr. Basketball Classic was held on Monday at Forest High School in Ocala.
The tournament featured six games throughout the day. Despite frigid temperatures, hundreds of fans came out to support their local high schools.
The Wildwood Wildcats and the Vanguard Knights entered this matchup on streaks that were similar to the temperature, outside. Wildwood lost two of its past three contests, while Vanguard dropped three of its last four. Vanguard head coach Todd Davis said his team needs to address its issues on both sides of the ball before it can get out of this slump.
“We’ve got to defend better and we’ve got to rebound. The last game we went 8-for-24 from the free-throw line, so that did us in,” Davis said.
One team was sure to come out on top. Both teams played each other last summer, giving Wildwood head coach Marcus Hawkins insight on what to expect from Vanguard a second time around.
“They’re a tough and gritty group. I know it’s going to be a pretty tough game with up-and-down pace," Hawkins said.
It was Wildwood who brought the tough and grittiness to start the game. Nate Mikell started a 6-2 run for the Wildcats in just under two minutes in with an almost immediate three-point shot. A monster block by Wildwood’s Jeremiah Tisme soon followed, his first of three in the first half. The Wildcats had a total of four blocks in the quarter alone, and led 17-12 thanks to nine points from Mikell.
Both teams traded small scoring streaks before Vanguard battled back. The Knights tied it with a trey from Blake Porter with under 30 seconds left in the half. Wildwood drove down the court, hoping to score once more and retake the lead. But, Vanguard’s Jordan Howard blocked Wildwood’s shot which then led to another quick three by Porter. The Wildcats quickly inbounded the ball with seconds left, and Niblack nailed a shot from downtown as time expired tying the game at 28.
Wildwood found separation again in the third quarter as they ended it on an 8-0 run to go up 43-37. Both teams found themselves in foul trouble as each had three total fouls two minutes into the half, while the Knights finished with nine fouls in the quarter.
The Wildcats continued to pour it on with a 12-2 run halfway through the fourth quarter. Vanguard managed to score only six points in the quarter, and 15 in the half, as they struggled to get shots over the six-foot-ten Tisme.
A high-scoring, 23-point fourth quarter was what allowed Wildwood to pull away from Vanguard and never look back. Five different players scored in the fourth quarter for the Wildcats, led by eight points from Niblack.
However, it was Mikell who led the team in scoring with 23 points, as well as tying for a team high in rebounds with five. The Wildcats had eight total blocks, as well. Vanguard was led by Porter who had 21 points thanks to five shots drained from beyond the arc.
Wildwood jumps right back into action Tuesday against Trinity Catholic as it tries to improve on its 13-8 record. Vanguard fell to 6-9 but will be fortunate enough to have a few days off before playing Gainesville High on Thursday in a district matchup.