By Nate Olson | Photos by Tommy Land
White Hall sophomore Jai’Chaunn Hayes scored 30 points, and the Bulldogs stopped Huntsville (Ala.) Grissom on its final possession to pull out a 65-64 win in the first round of the King Cotton Holiday Classic Creed Bracket on Tuesday afternoon.
As a tip-in by the Tigers’ Brendan Martin rimmed out as the buzzer sounded, White Hall players ran onto the court to celebrate. The win was the Bulldogs’ first at the prestigious national tournament after going winless a season ago.
Bulldogs head coach Josh Hayes, Jai’Chaunn Hayes’ father, was emotional after the victory. The Bulldogs program had fallen on tough times when he took over, and White Hall (11-4) has endured two straight losing seasons under his leadership.
“This is easily one of the biggest wins in White Hall basketball history,” the elder Hayes said. “We have faced so much adversity. I am so proud of our team. When adversity struck, we answered. The past three seasons have been tough. We have a had a lot of losses and butt-kickings, but we received those and learned from them and came out and compete.”
Jai’Chaunn Hayes, who holds an offer from Ole Miss, was the driving force for White Hall, especially in the fourth quarter, but he needed some help to put away Grissom (10-3), a perennial Alabama power.
He scored on a conventional three-point play and then added a turnaround in the lane to give White Hall a 57-52 lead with just over three minutes remaining in the game.
Grissom then rattled off a 5-0 run, and the score was tied with 2:08 left.
Jai’Chaunn Hayes found Bulldogs sharpshooter Keaton Stone, who had 13 points, open on the wing, and he nailed a three-pointer, his third of the game. The triple gave White Hall a 60-57 advantage with 1:07 left.
“[Jai’Chaun Hayes] is my son, and I am proud of him,” Josh Hayes said. “He has seen every defense [opponents] can throw at him, but he never tries to do too much. He has faith in his teammates. When they face-guard and double him, other guys need to step up, and they did.”
With just over a minute left, Jai’Chaun Hayes hit another jumper, giving White Hall a 63-61 advantage, but Grissom took the lead, 64-63, moments later on a three-pointer.
Hayes put White Hall up for good with a spinning turnaround jumper in the lane with 24 seconds remaining, making a 65-64 Bulldogs advantage.
Grissom called timeout and set up a play and missed a short shot, but the ball went out of bounds with 11 seconds to play. On their final possession, the Tigers had three chances to score, including a three-pointer and a put-back, with the final put-back rimming out as time expired.
“I’m just so proud of them because I think for a moment, they didn’t even think they could win the game,” Josh Hayes said.
With South Shore Brooklyn, NY, not able to attend the tournament, the Creed Bracket field was reshuffled with a round robin format, so the Bulldogs will now play Greenforest McCalep Christian from Decatur, Ga., at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“We need to appreciate this game for a few hours and get ready for tomorrow, and we will need to play even harder,” Josh Hayes said.
Grissom was playing without 5-star Alabama commit RJ Johnson, who didn’t travel with the Tigers.
“That made a difference,” Josh Hayes said with a laugh. "You know what, I would have loved to beat them with him here, but thank God he wasn’t. When I looked over there, and he wasn’t there, I was like, ‘Whew.’ I don’t know what happened.”
Kayden McKay chipped in 11 points for White Hall. Randy Emerson added nine points and five rebounds.
Silsbee, Texas 55, Mills 47
Mills led Silsbee, which is located near Beaumont, Texas, 26-25 at halftime, but Silsbee (9-11) held the Comets to nine points in the fourth quarter and pulled away for the win.
Mills (5-6) committed 14 turnovers.
“In the transition, they just beat us all night,” Mills head coach Raymond Cooper said. “We tried to make the adjustment at halftime but couldn’t correct it. We are small, so if we don’t get out in transition and get back, we will have trouble."
Keaton Cross led the Comets with 13 points, six rebounds and two assists. Dre’lon Miller totaled 20 points and 11 rebounds for Sillsbee.
Millls tips off Wednesday with an 11:30 a.m. tilt against Huntsville (Ala.) Grissom.
Windmere (Fla). 57, Greenforest McCalep Christian Academy (Ga.) 46
Windmere, which is located near Orlando, had no problem with Greenforest-McCalep, which is in Decatur, Ga., running out to a 12-2 first-quarter lead and 31-20 halftime lead.
Chalier Air Torres led Windmere with 16 points and eight rebounds. Isaiah Doceus totaled 13 points and six boards.
Elijah Lewis led GMCA with 14 points.