Two rivalry games, two wins.
Heritage coach Ralph Denmark’s career leading the Patriots’ boys varsity basketball couldn’t have begun any better, in Rockdale County at least, as the Patriots handed Salem its fourth loss in five games Monday night, downing the Seminoles 76-58 in region play.
The Seminoles hung close for much of the night, trailing by just five in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots’ defense held Salem to just five points over the final three minutes, outscoring the Seminoles 13-5 to seal the rivalry win.
Rashad Jones led the Patriots with 15 points, one of three Patriots in double figures, as Heritage moved its record to 5-1 in region play.
“This win gives our team an opportunity to excel a little bit,” Denmark said. “We’ve had three games, in three days and to come out with three wins is great for our team. Even though we’re picking up some steam right now, we still have a lot we can work on.”
Down 55-47 entering the fourth quarter, Salem’s Kristopher Bridgeman converted an old-fashioned three-point play, cutting the Patriots’ lead to 55-50.
The five-point mark was as close as the Seminoles would come in the fourth quarter, as Heritage pushed its lead into double figures with an Andre Harris end-to-end layup and an Isaiah Banks baseline jumper.
Banks’ bucket pushed the Patriots’ lead to 61-51 before Salem trimmed the lead back to single digits on a Quintavius Byrd layup and an Austin Samuel free throw.
Leading 63-54, Heritage went on a 13-5 run to close the game, icing the game at the free-throw line. The Patriots went 9-of-13 from the free throw line over the final three minutes, including a 4-of-6 mark from Harris.
Heritage defeated rival Heritage just two days prior, giving Denmark his second rivalry victory in three days.
“It’s a rivalry game, but it’s even more important because it’s a game in the region,” Denmark said. “We want to set ourselves up for a good spot in the postseason and make sure we’re ready for the region tournament. These kinds of wins are what we need to accomplish our goal.”
Heritage led by one after the first quarter, carrying a 14-13 advantage into the second half. Abrams and Jones scored four points apiece in the quarter for the Patriots, while Bridgeman led all scorers in the quarter with six points for the Seminoles.
The Patriots broke away from Salem in the second quarter, holding the Seminoles scoreless for over three minutes in the period. Jordan Thomas started a 9-0 run for Heritage with a put-back layup, and JaDarius Smith drained a 3-pointer during the run, helping Heritage to a 34-21 advantage before Bridgeman broke the Salem scoring drought at the foul line.
Salem scored six of final nine points of the half, going into the break down 38-30.
Both teams traded baskets in the third, scoring 17 points apiece.
Jones finished with four assists in the win, whole Terrell Rainey and Banks finished with 14 and 12 points, respectively. Banks grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
Bridgeman finished with 16 points pacing Salem, while Byrd and Demyon Greenwood added 11 points apiece.
Salem returns to action today in the opening round of the Kreul Classic Holiday Tournament, while Heritage opens against Athens Christian on Dec. 27 at the Walnut Grove Christmas Tournament.