FORT PAYNE — A weight was lifted from the shoulders of the Fort Payne boys basketball team Thursday night.
Lane White finished with a season-high 31 points and Jacob Hendricks scored 10 points as the Wildcats earned their first win of the season, a 61-45 triumph against Southside.
The Wildcats held a 30-24 halftime lead before outscoring the Panthers 15-8 in the third to widen the scoring gap and hold on for the win.
“We just needed to get back to having fun, playing the game we love to play,” Wildcats coach Michael Banks said after earning his first head-coaching victory. “I think with that attitude and getting this monkey off our backs, it’s going to do wonders for their confidence.”
Hendricks made two free throws and a 3-pointer during the third-quarter run, and White stole a pass and dunked with 2:20 left in the period, sending the Wildcats into a 43-30 lead and the gym into a frenzy.
“I talk with (White) every night before games and tell him to play with no fear,” Banks said. “Obviously he can jump out of the gym and he’s been looking for those opportunities. I said, ‘You just have to let it come to you.’
“Tonight he had those opportunities and just came out blazing.”
White had another breakaway dunk in the fourth to give Fort Payne a 49-32 advantage with 5:40 to play.
Banks said so much of the Wildcats’ second-half change in play was due to being more decisive.
“Tonight we were going for it,” Banks said. “We shot the ball, we didn’t think twice. If we were open, we shot it and shot in rhythm.”
Hendricks hit a 3 to give the Wildcats a 15-9 lead after the opening period. Bryson Richey found White open for a 3-pointer early in the second period, before White added another shot from long distance to make it 21-9 with 5:41 left, forcing Southside to call time.
“None of these guys ever quit,” Banks said. “They came to practice every day, worked hard and now they’re starting to see a little fruit from their labor. I couldn’t be more proud of everybody.”
Colton Morrison led Southside with 19 points.
The Wildcats visit Albertville on Tuesday.