SCOTTSBORO — The Fort Payne boys played six road games in eight days before the Thanksgiving break — a brutal schedule for any team.
The Wildcats capped their pre-Thanksgiving road trip at Scottsboro High School, unable to overcome Guntersville’s second-half scoring barrage in a 97-80 loss on the final day of the FNB Bank Thanksgiving Tournament last Wednesday.
Fort Payne coach Michael Banks said his team is still looking to play a complete game.
“We’ve had games where we’ve had leads late in the fourth quarter. We’re just struggling to put it all together, putting together four quarters with a complete defensive effort,” he said.
Jacob Hendricks scored 22 points, Lane White added 20 points and Kevin Hightower had 16 points for Fort Payne.
Guntersville took a 47-33 halftime advantage after closing the half with a 7-2 run. Cooper Davidson made a pair of teardrop shots and added a spinning layup to put Guntersville in front 36-29 with 3 minutes left in the half. Campbell Leach and Brandon Fussell each hit 3-pointers to extend the lead to 44-31 with 46.3 seconds to play.
“They were knocking down shots. If we left them open, they made it,” Banks said. “We had to contest every 3. They moved well without the ball, they passed the ball well, they didn’t take bad shots. They did a good job of taking care of the ball and getting good shots down the stretch.”
Bryson Richey found Elijah Kirby open under the basket for a buzzer-beating layup for Fort Payne.
Fort Payne turned up its defensive pressure to start the second half, but Guntersville was able to break free from defensive traps and continue finding good looks at the basket.
“I knew we would need to continue to pressure to have a chance. We couldn’t stay back,” Banks said. “Guntersville just executed their offense until they got the shot they wanted. We gambled more, being more aggressive defensively.”
Hightower sank a jump shot and White scored a layup after stealing a pass to bring Fort Payne within 70-46 with 3 minutes remaining in the third. Hightower added a rebounding score and White finished the period off with back-to-back driving layups to cut the deficit to 76-58.
Guntersville took the lead for good at 14-13 on Stanley Michel’s layup with less than 2 minutes left in the first quarter.
Davidson finished with a game-high 29 points for Guntersville. Fussell scored 24 points and Leach chipped in 19 points.
Banks said he’s seeing progression from Fort Payne’s offense. He’s noticed his team’s scoring improvement. But he said it’s the defensive end that needs more work.
“Defensively, we’re just giving up way too many easy shots, missing some assignments, and it’s leading to easy buckets for other teams,” he said.
Fort Payne returned home Monday night, going for its first win of the season against Gadsden City. The game was not completed before press time. For updates, follow The Times-Journal on Facebook and Twitter.