T-Bird men take Tacoma Classic
By Calvin Domingo- Staff Reporter
The Highline men's basketball team has started off the non-conference portion of their season at 2-0 with victories against Linn-Benton and Columbia Basin.
"We have a really good culture right now," Highline Head Coach Che Dawson said about his team's start to the season.
"Guys are positive with each other and share the ball well. We have to increase our sense of urgency and attention to detail."
This past Friday on Nov. 15, the Highline Thunderbirds traveled to Tacoma to take on the Linn-Benton Roadrunners and emerged victorious, 76-72.
Sophomore guard Mahlik Hall led Highline with a game-high 22 points (7 for 17 from the field, 6-7 from the free-throw line) in addition to six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Hall was one of four T-Bird starters to score in double figures as sophomore forward Nathan Yockey chipped in with 18 points (7 for 12 from the field, 3-7 from the three-point line) along with six rebounds and four assists.
Guards Treyden Harris and Kadeem Nelson both led the Roadrunners in scoring as they dropped 16 points apiece.
Yockey, who hit three threes in the game, essentially put the icing on the cake with a last-second charge in the closing minutes in which the Road Runners, down 75-72, attempted to tie the game up.
"It felt good to close the game out that way," Yockey said on the last-second charge that he took.
"Taking a charge to seal the game doesn't come with the glory that it does to hit a game winning shot, but I thought ending the game that way showed people Highline's identity and the way that we finish teams with defensive execution."
Hall credited the team's victory to guys doing their jobs and playing the right brand of basketball.
"Ultimately, we made plays," Hall said on the driving factor behind the team's first win of the season.
In Highline's second and final game at the Tacoma Classic this past Saturday, Nov. 16, they blew out Columbia Basin, 84-66.
Freshman forward/center Jaylen Fayson had a game-high 18 points (8 for 12 from the field) in addition to six rebounds and three blocks for Highline as five players scored in double figures.
Guards Hall and Micah Jessie each dropped 17 points, while Hall filled up the box score to the tune of seven rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a block. Jessie corralled eight rebounds.
Columbia Basin guards Carson Cloaninger and Brandon Baker led the Hawks in scoring with 11 points apiece.
While the box score would indicate otherwise, the Hawks kept things interesting during the first half, as they went into intermission only down by three, 41-38.
Coming out of the half, the Thunderbirds didn't let up off the gas pedal and went on a tear, going on a 24-6 run to build a lead that they wouldn't relinquish.
"We looked back on our mistakes and realized if we just executed, we could finish the game," freshman guard James Brown said about the adjustments that the team made at halftime. "We cleaned it up and the lead came with it."
Coach Dawson attributed the team's avalanche of scoring to open the second half to guys "playing harder than the other team and spacing the floor so we could get to the rim."
However, while the team has gotten off to a strong start to the season, they aren't a team without weaknesses that need to be addressed.
In their victories against Linn-Benton and Columbia Basin, Highline had an alarming 43 turnovers.
"Linn-Benton has some really tough, quick physical guards and they throw a lot of defensive schemes at you to keep you off balance," Coach Dawson said.
"It was also hard to prepare for them without a scout since it was the first game of the season." Yockey downplayed the team's high number of turnovers.
"Coach Dawson talked to us a lot about offensive execution. A lot of our turnovers will go away when we can clean up how we execute and make sure we're at the right places and getting through our offensive with the right timing," Yockey said.
At 2-0, there's plenty of ball left to be played. However, for the team to keep the momentum going, they have to execute better.
"It's going to be very crucial for our future games that we've started so strong," Brown said.
"This has given us some confidence, and we know that we can only get better. We've just got to make sure we continue to execute better, because when the postseason comes, that will win us games."
The Thunderbirds will travel to Bellevue tomorrow to take part in the Bulldog Classic, where they'll clash with the Walla Walla Warriors at 5 p.m.
Then, on Saturday, Nov. 23, Highline will play the Chemeketa Storm at 4 p.m.
Finally, on Sunday, Nov. 24, the T-Birds will face-off against the host Bulldogs at 2 p.m. to finish the tournament.
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