FORSYTH -- With a who’s who of college basketball head coaches in attendance, Mary Persons put itself back on track in the early stages of the season, knocking off previously unbeaten Howard 62-52 on Tuesday.
Seated courtside were Kansas head coach Bill Self, Florida’s Billy Donovan and Louisville’s Rick Pitino. They were in town to see Bulldogs standout Brannen Greene, a highly rated prospect according to numerous scouting services.
Greene rose to the challenge, delivering in the clutch as the Bulldogs finished off the Huskies in the fourth quarter with him scoring all but two of the Bulldogs’ points during the final eight minutes. Greene finished with 16 points.
“I kind of zone out the crowd. I’m used to seeing them in AAU ball, so it was mostly the same,” Greene said. “As far as how the game was played, it was a little bit different.”
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With Mary Persons clinging to a 54-48 lead with three minutes to play, Greene went to work, extending the advantage to 56-48 on a turnaround jumper and blocking a shot on the Huskies’ next offensive trip down the floor, preventing Howard from answering the score and gaining momentum.
Greene scored the remaining handful of points for Mary Persons, including a thunderous two-handed dunk as time expired for the final margin, about 15 feet away from Pitino, Donovan and Self.
“It was to kind of put an emphasis at the game,“ Greene said. “They had been playing me hard the whole game.”
Mary Persons led early 11-2, but Howard rallied, keeping the game close for a half. The Huskies found success with their quick backcourt and the combo of Cameron Dacus and Brandon Glover were able to penetrate into the paint and come away with scores. As a result, Mary Persons led 32-30 at halftime.
The Bulldogs took control in the second half. Trailing 35-34, a shot by Rico Lyons jump-started a 10-2 run to put Mary Persons ahead 44-37 and later 47-39 on a 3-pointer by Tra Taylor.
That set the Bulldogs up for the fourth quarter, as they continued to slow the game’s tempo more to their liking as they put the contest away.
“Several times throughout the year we have not been able to sustain (momentum), so what happens is you try to do it offensively, so you take bad shots, don’t make them and have to turn around and play defense,” Mary Persons head coach Virgil Amey said. “You can’t get rebounds and can’t get back on offense, and it just puts you in a bad mindset. We told them to slow the game down, take quality shots and gives us a chance to get quality offensive rebounds.”
Mary Persons’ win comes after Howard topped Mary Persons 81-71 on Dec. 3 at Howard. Given the recent loss, focus was not much of a problem for the Bulldogs entering Tuesday.
“That loss was still fresh on our mind. We didn’t have a lot of time to get over it,” Amey said. “As soon as we lost, my guys said, ‘we play them again in two weeks.”
With both regular-season contests between the teams already out of the way, Howard head coach Jay Lunce hopes to see Mary Persons again with the region title on the line during postseason play.
“I knew it was going to be tough to beat them at their place; that’s why it was important for us to beat them at our place,” he said. “It’ll be a team that we’ll probably see in the playoffs, hopefully we’ll see them in the championship.”
In the girls game, the Lady Bulldogs clamped down defensively to seal a 43-30 win. Mary Persons limited Howard to just two third-quarter points to put the game out of reach with Keke Calloway’s 17 points leading the way to keep the Lady Bulldogs unbeaten. Chelsea Stuckey’s 14 points and four 3-pointers paced Howard’s effort.