ATLANTA — In a rematch against their Sweet 16 playoffs opponent from one season ago, Heritage faced off with Bradwell Institute in a much different setting this time around.
Instead of playing in front of a packed house at Heritage High School, the two teams met at the newly renovated State Farm Arena in a special 1-game regular season meeting and like season, it was a game that went in the Patriots’ favor.
Behind strong performances from seniors Josh Guilford and Trelan Scott, the Patriots cruised to a 52-39 victory in which they led wire-to-wire. The Patriots held the Tigers to just 21 points through the first three quarters, forcing more than 10 turnovers in the process.
For Patriots head coach Vernon Denmark, he said it was a great experience getting to coach inside State Farm Arena, as well as getting a bounce-back win after suffering a disappointing loss to Newton at the NewRock Showcase last Saturday.
“We had a couple of good days of practice and we talked about being more mentally prepared for games,” Denmark said. “I think we were a little bit more focused today. We had a lot of distractions the night that we played Newton. When you have that happen against a team that’s really good, it can definitely go south really fast. I’m glad that we were a lot more focused today.”
The Patriots jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead, five of which were scored by senior Adrian Boykin. The senior got things started with a steal and a layup before knocking home a tough shot, plus a foul, giving him a 3-point play.
With the Heritage lead cut to 8-6, senior point guard Jordan Wiggins knocked down his first 3-pointer of the game to extend the lead back out to five. Courtney McBride followed that up with a three-point play of his own, ending the first quarter with the Patriots leading 14-9.
The Patriots began the second quarter on a quick 7-0 run thanks to five points from Guilford on a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper. Two Scott free throws gave the Patriots a 21-9 lead with 5:35 left to play, but the Patriots were far from finished scoring the ball. Heritage scored 10 more points in the final five minutes, all of which were scored from Guilford (4) and Scott (6), extending the Patriots lead to 31-17 at halftime.
“Getting off to a good start was very important,” Denmark said. “I’m really proud of my seniors and the way that they led us. Something else that we talked about was our point guard play. I think they started things off today. Jordan Wiggins, Adrian Boykin did some really good things. I know what to expect out of Guilford and Scott, but those two guys really picked it up and that was big for us.”
Only 11 points were scored by the Patriots in the third quarter, but a swarming defense held the Tigers to a mere four points while forcing 11 missed shots.
With the game well in hand, 42-21 heading into the fourth quarter, Denmark elected to give his deep bench some minutes, resulting in a minor comeback for the Tigers that saw them have their best quarter of the game, scoring 18 points to Heritage’s 10.
“First time coaching in this arena and my first time being down there on the floor,” Denmark said. “It was exciting for myself, and to the fans and players. It was a really good experience.”
For Scott, he said getting to play on an NBA court was a dream he’s had for as long as he could remember.
“It was a great experience getting to play in an NBA arena,” Scott said. “It was a dream of mine. It feels amazing. It was a good way to bounce back from our loss last week. We came into this game way more prepared. When we’re all clicking, we’re dangerous.”
Guilford reiterated Scott’s take and said that, for the most part, playing on the court was what he expected it to be like.
“I was a season ticket holder, so I always came to the games and saw the players on there and always wanted to play on the court,” Guilford said. “I thought the rims were going to be higher or something like that. It kind of caught me off guard on my free throws. But other than that, it was cool.”