University Heights Academy fell to Graves County a year ago in the Marshall County Hoopfest, but the Blazers were determined to come away with a victory in this year’s appearance and UHA did just that.
The Blazers edged Callaway (MS) 81-78 after taking their first lead of the game midway through the fourth quarter to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2015.
UHA coach Grant Shouse said his team gains valuable experience playing in the annual showcase.
“I just think for us to have the opportunity to come over here, we’ve been over the last couple of years and felt like we had competed but not necessarily played as well as we could,” he said. “I thought today was an opportunity against a very good athletic team, well thought of in the state of Mississippi and I thought it was a great opportunity for our guys to play off of the success we had last year and build off of that and really a great test to see who we really are and what we’re made of.”
The Blazers came out cold in the first quarter and quickly fell behind to the surging Chargers of Callaway, Mississippi.
When UHA eventually settled down, it was a close contest although the Blazers could never grab a lead.
“I think it’s a feeling out process,” he said. “Getting into the flow of the game, finding some things that work, I thought it was important for us to get out in transition and start running. I thought we settled for some jump shots early in the game where we should have been attacking the basket.”
UHA guard KyKy Tandy said the Blazers knew their game plan going in.
“Me and my teammates wanted to push the ball because we knew they were going to push it,” Tandy said. “They’re really the same team that we are so we wanted to push the ball like they push the ball but when we get in the half court we’re going to slow it down.”
Tandy said it was frustrating to get close then the Chargers would get a bucket to make the lead a little bigger.
“We just had to get a stop,” he said. “That was key.”
The Blazers trailed 44-39 at the half, but Tandy and company would quickly erase that deficit.
“At halftime I challenged them to be more physical and raise our level of play on the defensive end because I felt like we had gave up too many points to beat them,” Shouse said. “We didn’t give up as many, we still gave up quite a few but they’re a good offensive team, very athletic, very physical. Just to grit it out and win one in that fashion was something we definitely liked.”
A bright spot for the Blazers in the first half was the play of Amani McGee.
McGee scored six points off the bench and Shouse said it was only a matter of time before McGee found his groove.
“One thing for sure about Amani, he’s always had a great offensive game,” he said. “He’s always been able to put the ball in the basket.”
Tandy finished with 31 points in the game, including 15 in the second half to help push the Blazers to victory.
For Shouse, he knows it’s just another day at the office for the Xavier signee.
“He’s just a gamer,” he said. “Some guys are born with that ability and that mindset that they want the ball in their hands when the games on the line. I thought he really kept us in the game with his offense in the first half.”
While Tandy led the Blazers in scoring and was named the game’s MVP, Drew McGowan finished with 21 points and five rebounds in the win.
Ta’Quan Hollowell also finished in double figures with 13 points.
UHA now heads to the First State Bank Tipoff Classic hosted by Muhlenberg County.
The Blazers play at 5:30 p.m. against Doss.
Shouse said while it’s not ideal to play back-to-back games early in the season, it’s vital come tournament time as they’ll have to win more games in a few more days to win the KSHSAA Sweet Sixteen.
“We seem to rise to the occasion,” he said.