Uplift has entered previously uncharted territory. For coach David Taylor, these are the best and most challenging of times.
“This is the first time we’ve ever been ranked, and I think it’s gone to our heads, and we’ve started to take our opponents lightly,” he said. “We seem to think now because we’re ranked, we don’t have to go out and play hard.”
Despite an erratic fourth quarter performance, the No. 25 Titans remained unbeaten. Guard Quintin Olaghegi scored 19 points and registered six steals and five assists as Uplift survived Phillips’ late rally for a 60-54 victory in the Southside/Northside Challenge at Vocational on Saturday.
The game was as much influenced by scheduling as the players on the court. Two Uplift starters missed the start of the game because of taking the ACT test earlier that morning. Phillips dressed only seven players as four players, including two starters, missed the game.
Olaghegi scored 12 of his team-best total in the first half. During one stretch of the second quarter, he scored 10 out of the Titans’ 12 points. Uplift (9-0) led by as many as nine in the first half en route to the 31-26 lead at the break.
Phillips’ athletic 6-1 wing guard William Robinson kept the Wildcats close with some spectacular overall play. He scored 13 of his game-high 21 points in the first half.
Olaghegi was a disruptive force defensively with his ballhawking that yielded the six steals. Phillips was shut out from the field fore more than five and a half minutes before Robinson scored on a drive.
“Coach got on us about playing better defense, and that’s what we tried to do, especially in that third quarter,” Olaghegi said. He ended the third quarter with a steal and drive and a rebound he advanced the length of the floor for another layup as Uplift ran out to a 49-37 lead to start the fourth quarter.
“Coach wanted me to play hard and be really aggressive, and that’s what I tried to do,” he said. “We had some advantages and I just wanted to play hard and go to the basket.”
Junior swingman Jeremy Roscoe, who did not enter the game until halfway through the second quarter, made up for the lost time. He scored all 13 of his points in the second half. He converted a three-point play and converted a three-pointer from the top of the key in scoring eight points in the third quarter.
Phillips’ guard Dwane Wright, who did not start because he was late arriving from taking the ACT, ignited the Wildcats’ fourth quarter charge. He scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter as Phillips took advantage of Uplift’s multiple fourth quarter turnovers.
“We just stopped thinking out there,” Taylor said. “They went to a press against us, and we acted as though we hadn’t run our press breaker the whole year. We tried to throw 70-foot passes, and that’s not us.”
Wright’s three-pointer from the left wing punctuated a 7-0 run that pulled Phillips (4-4) within 56-52 with just over three minutes remaining. Phillips (4-4) had several chances to pull within one but committed two key turnovers of its own down the stretch.
“We were just missing too many key pieces because of the test-taking,” Phillips coach Lawrence Briggs said. “We had mostly underclassmen out there, in that third quarter, and it showed.”
Uplift’s Deshon Fluckes scored on a putback in the lane with just over a minute to play and Phillips never got nearer than four points the rest of the game.
Guard Augustine Tronou added nine points for Uplift.
Corrielle Robinson added 10 points for Phillips.