This could be a special season for the Independence High boys’ basketball team.
Preston Davis, eighth-year head coach of the Patriots, says there is a nice mix of talent, experience and willing-to-learn sophomores. But there are a few rough spots to iron out, Davis says.
All of that – the talent, experience, and rough spots – were on display Saturday evening at Vance High, when Independence rolled past United Faith Christian Academy 83-66 in the second annual Southeast Hoops Festival.
The player that many fans came to see, 6-10 senior center Justyn Hamilton, put on a dizzying display of dunks, 8-foot jump shots and rebounding. And the Patriots showed they have plenty more in the lineup, including point guard Chea Johnson and long-range shooter Matthew Statile.
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And they did it against a United Faith team that entered the game with a 7-0 record.
But there also were the 31 turnovers, a collection of mistakes that allowed United Faith to rally several times from big deficits and keep Davis – who at 6-foot-8 is very much a presence courtside – pacing for much of the game.
“When we’ve had problems this season, it’s usually been with the turnovers,” says Davis, whose team improved to 4-2. “It’s a fine line for us. We want to be aggressive and push the tempo. Because of that, there are bound to be some turnovers. But we have to keep a limit on the mistakes.
“Tonight was too many,” Davis says.
There are seven seniors and four returning starters on the Independence team, and they gained valuable experience last season on a team that went 21-8. But Davis also is giving several sophomores and juniors a considerable amount of playing time.
So what is the personality of this 2016-17 Independence team?
“Well, if it goes right, we’ll push the tempo, and we’ll also play a very aggressive form of defense,” Davis says. “Justyn will be a force inside, but we’ll also have the outside shooters to keep other teams honest. And we’ll limit the turnovers.”
Davis was a forward on the last Independence team to win a state title, in 1997 under coach Tony Huggins. He has a gleam in his eye when he talks about the potential of the Patriot team two decades later.
“We really could have a big season, but we’re still a work in progress,” he says. “We have to keep working at a few things, and we’re pushing the kids in those areas. But we have some real talent on this team.”
3 who mattered
Justyn Hamilton (Independence): The 6-10 Temple commit dominated the game in the second half. He finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds, and he hit 10-of-13 shots from the floor. One of his dunks, in the third quarter, brought many fans in the Vance gymnasium to their feet.
Jalen Knight (United Faith): A number of college coaches were on hand to watch Knight, a 5-11 senior point guard. He scored a team-high 24 points and had four steals.
Matthew Statile (Independence): A 6-3 senior guard, he hit 4-of-9 from three-point range and finished with 16 points.
▪ The final game of the classic – Cannon School against York Prep – was postponed until 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The games ran behind schedule Saturday, and rather than start the finale at 10:30 p.m. (it was scheduled for 9 p.m.), officials decided to reschedule it Sunday afternoon. Fans with wristbands from Saturday will be admitted for free if they show their wristbands.
▪ Another of the evening’s feature games had Charlotte Christian trouncing Wayne Country Day 80-52. B.J. Mack, the 6-8 transfer from last year’s 4A state championship Charlotte Catholic team, scored had game-high totals of 18 points and 10 rebounds.
▪ Perhaps the day’s most entertaining game was played at noon. Host Vance squeaked past Charlotte Catholic 76-74 in overtime. Cam Hamilton led Vance with 31 points. Incidentally, Vance and Catholic are the last two remaining Charlotte teams in the state football playoffs.
▪ In the Independence-United Faith game, the Patriots shot 57 percent from the floor. That included Hamilton’s 6-of-10 shooting and guard Chea Johnson’s 6-of-9 effort.
▪ Saturday’s game was Independence’s last before opening Southwestern 4A play Tuesday at East Mecklenburg. United Faith is home Tuesday against Statesville Christian.
United Faith 23 16 13 14 – 66
Independence 19 26 18 20 – 83
UNITED FAITH CHRISTIAN 66 -- Rafael Jenkins 10; Thompson 8; Jalen Knight 24; Brett Swilling 10; K.C. Hankton 14; Canty 0; Gilmore 0; Wolfe 0; Tewolde 0; Dawson 0.
INDEPENDENCE 83 -- Bonar 6; Chea Johnson 15; Tshiona 8; Justyn Hamilton 24; Matthew Statile 16; Smith 0; Allen 0; Fairfax 3; Mobley 0; Schenk 2; Burton 9.