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Highland defense keeps McKenzie at bay

McKenzie’s Jacquez Smith swats a Highland Home layup attempt in the opening minutes of the first quarter.

McKenzie’s Jacquez Smith swats a Highland Home layup attempt in the opening minutes of the first quarter.

A second-half opening salvo from the Highland Home Flying Squadron and a harassing defense sank the McKenzie Tigers as the Squadron flew away with a 72-53 win.

A two-minute stalemate between the two teams ended with a bang, courtesy of the Squadron’s full-court press that forced McKenzie turnovers and led to an 8-0 run.

Meanwhile, the McKenzie rim seemed cursed for the better part of 4 minutes in the first quarter until Chris Shufford’s relentless attacks at the rim earned him a trip to the free throw line to help close the growing gap.

A 3-pointer from Quindario Lee at the buzzer cut the worrisome deficit to just 3 at the end of the first, and a pair of free throws from Jacquez Smith cut the Squadron’s lead to just 1 at the top of the second quarter.

Highland’s defense tightened, however, led by Drick Bell, whose quick hands effectively kept Shufford in check for much of the night.

The once surmountable Highland lead ballooned back to double digits at the close of the first half.  Unfortunately for the Tigers, the Squadron defense was still warming up.

Reenergized by their 10-point lead, the Squadron defense was relentless in the opening minutes of the second half, holding the Tigers scoreless for nearly four minutes while running and gunning to the tune of a 16-0 run.

Four consecutive McKenzie possessions ended in four turnovers each, thanks to Bell’s backcourt pressure and a series of McKenzie passes that just missed their mark.

Any chance of a Tigers comeback vanished in the fourth, despite a thunderous dunk from Lee late in the fourth that brought McKenzie fans in the stands to their feet.

Daniel Phillips led the Squadron with 25 points, followed by 19 points from Drick Bell.

Quindario Lee led the Tigers with 20 points, and Jacquez Smith added 16 points to the Tigers’ total.