Sutton Smith lives for the pressure.
When he was fouled with 9.1 seconds left in regulation with his team down two against North Hall on Thursday night, he had plenty of reason to drown under it. But Smith converted his two shots, with no doubt in his mind.
"I’ve put enough time in in the gym and on my own that I know I can just step up to the line and knock it down if I need to,” Smith said. “I think it just comes with confidence and preparation. I think your confidence is determined in the summer with what you do and how much time you put in.”
Still, Denmark’s boys basketball team still needed one play, one break to tip the game in its favor. The Danes got it, with the Trojans errantly passing the ball out of bounds with 4.2 seconds to play. With the game tied, the Danes didn’t even have to think about who they’d give the ball to.
“We just wanted to try to get as good of a look as we can and attack the basket,” Smith said.
Smith took the inbound pass, sprinted inside the arc and went up for his shot. With the sound of the buzzer echoing through the arena, the ball went in, Smith pumped his fist and his teammates mobbed him in celebration of a 55-53 victory.
“I think our guys believe in themselves and we’re growing into that,” Denmark boys coach Tyler Whitlock said. “We have a really great point guard who was able to make some plays and just kind of turned him loose to do some things. I think towards the end, we got the stops we really needed and that helped a lot.”
Ze’Vian Capers provided one of those key stops in the fourth quarter, with a play that started the momentum shift to Denmark’s side with just under a minute left. He dove in front of a Trojans pass and intercepted it and then passed it to Smith, who was fouled and made one of the two subsequent attempts. In a final quarter where the game was either tied or the Trojans were clinging to slim lead, those kinds of plays were the difference.
“Those are plays that championship teams make,” Whitlock said. “Those 50/50 balls become so important. You know it doesn’t feel good to do that type of stuff. To go out there and sacrifice yourself and find your teammate in the process, it’s awesome to watch.”
The Danes started their night off slowly, with the visiting Trojans winning on the boards in the first quarter. Denmark couldn’t seem to get its shots to fall, but a Smith jumper with around two minutes left kept them in the thick of things, with North Hall holding a 12-7 lead at the end of the period.
North Hall continued to hold the lead through the first part of the second quarter, but with four minutes until the half, Smith took a shot to the basket to narrow the Trojan lead to 19-13. That began a 13-5 run for the Danes to close out the first half, with Capers and Maksim Vinogradov each contributing to a Denmark’s first lead, 26-24 at the break.
In the third, the Trojans took the lead again, but two late shots by Adonnis Tolbert kept Denmark in the hunt, setting up the wild finish. Smith led the Danes with 20 points on the night. Capers and Tolbert finished with 11 and 12, respectively.
While exciting, Denmark still sees Thursday’s win as an ugly one, but the way they won breeds optimism with the Danes still in the thick of the Region 7-4A race.
“When things get close, we’re still able to find a way,” Whitlock said. “That can really help us as we try to make a run late in the year.”
North Hall girls 42, Denmark 18
Denmark’s girls were put into a significant hole early on, with the Danes not scoring any points in the first quarter. The Trojans began the game with an 18-0 run before the Danes secured their first field goal with just over seven minutes left before halftime. Denmark never came close to overcoming their deficit, with North Hall cruising to the victory.
Jordyn Denardo and Tyana Green finished with four points each for the Danes.