If there was any question whether or not Word of God and Mount Zion still consider each other rivals after not playing each other last season, it was wiped away immediately before the boys’ game began.
Word of God’s Brandon Huffman and Mount Zion’s Augustine Ominu didn’t blink as they stared each other down while the referees sauntered to their places.
The Holy Rams’ homecoming crowd, as well as the visitors from Mount Zion, ate it up as they waited for tip-off.
But only the Word of God fans left happy with a 75-60 victory.
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But the extra adrenaline didn’t work in Word of God’s favor. The Holy Rams (16-4) missed four dunks out of five attempted. Washington recruit Blake Harris had 20 points, and Tahj Small came off the bench to lead the Holy Rams with 21 (five 3s).
Small’s baskets came at crucial times in the fourth quarter as Mount Zion cut the lead to as little as eight.
“A lot of emotion in that game,” Word of God coach Brian Clifton said. “Two of the kids that played on that team actually started the year here, so our guys were more focused on what they were going to be able to say tomorrow morning and tonight than they were about taking care of business. It’s probably the worst performance we had all year.”
Mount Zion (8-15) was upbeat after the game. It was the second game in as many days, in as many days with new head coach Phillip Freeman. Stephen Baines stepped aside on Wednesday.
The Warriors got 14 points from Ominu, 13 from Derrick Williams and 12 from Tyreke Royster.
The Warriors have a Saturday game lined up as well, which means Freeman will coach three games in consecutive days before holding his first team practice.
“To come in play like they did, and hang close as long as we did against Word of God, which is a great team, I thought the guys did well,” Freeman said. “Once we get in a few practices in, with gelling, I think we’re going to be just as good as those guys. I think we have a lot of talent. It’s just teaching them how to play together in a structured system.”
In the girls’ game, Mount Zion pulled out a 46-40 victory, as Ciara Findlayter-Stephenson and Denysia Bender each had 12 points.
Tia Richardson had eight points and 12 rebounds, with many of them coming late to get key stops for the Warriors (16-5). Freshman Khalis Cane had a game-high 14 rebounds.
“I would say this game, we fought. We trusted each other and we knew if we did our job we would come back,” first-year Mount Zion coach Richard Jowers said. “They were a family this game.”
Elise Williams led the Holy Rams (6-12), which struggled shooting, with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Jodeci Boyd (six points) had 10 rebounds.
“We’re pretty young,” first-year Word of God coach Van Monroe said. “The girls are playing hard and they’re starting to understand what I want them to do. This is a foundation year.”