By Derrick Mahone
Stockbridge's offense was much like the scoreboard clock in the Tigers' gym on Wednesday evening - it wasn't working.
The small crowd that gathered for the Tigers last game of the 2009 portion of the season had to keep yelling to the clock operator for scoring updates. For most of the evening, it wasn't good news for the Stockbridge fans.
A 3-pointer by Stockbridge's guard Justin Freeman with 36 seconds remaining gave the Tigers their first lead of the game as they held on for a 39-34 win over first-year Langston Hughes in a non-region contest.
Freeman's shot give them 36-34 lead after he missed the free throw.
"I knew when it left my hand that it was going in," said Freeman, who finished with a game-high 14 points.
"It was a big shot," Stockbridge coach Duane Kelley said.
Freeman, much like the rest of his teammates struggled in the first half, against the taller Hughes defenders. He was only 1 of 7 in the first half as the Tigers trailed 19-7 at the intermission. Stockbridge was held scoreless in the first quarter as the Panthers built a 19-0 lead.
Kelley would call on his team to play defense in the second quarter as they slowly crawled back into the game by holding Hughes scoreless in the second quarter.
"I just told Justin to keep shooting," Kelley said. "I told him it might come a situation later in the game when he would need to make some big shots. We just played through a sluggish first half."
Stockbridge played the first half without leading scorer Chris Davis, who was nursing an ankle injury. He played sparingly in the second half and only contributed four points. The night before, Davis scored 27 points in a win over Hamilton of Memphis in the Memphis vs. Atlanta Roundball Christmas Classic at Mount Zion High.
The Hamilton game went into triple overtime, and the Tigers played the third overtime without Davis, who had fouled out near the end of the second overtime.
Kelley, who missed the Hamilton game because of a family emergency, didn't want to blame the Tigers' sluggish play on the previous night's thrilling overtime win.
"We felt loose during warm-ups, and our shots were falling," forward Dante Campbell said. "Nobody shots were falling in the first half, I don't know why because they weren't playing that good of defense."
Kelley had planned on sitting Davis the entire game, but decided to play him in hopes of giving his team a boost. Davis re-injured his ankle in the win over Hamilton. He sat at the end of the bench for the majority of the first half.
"He is our leader," Kelley said. "We needed some motivation. I'm proud of the way he gutted it out."
Davis said it wasn't the lack of offense that bothered him, but his team's poor defensive effort that was troubling.
"We weren't playing defense, and it showed" Davis said. "It was embarrassing."
The Tigers will take an 11-2 record into the new year before starting back region play against Jonesboro on Jan. 5. Stockbridge has won it last two games after a 47-44 loss to Sprayberry on Dec. 19. This was the fourth straight loss for Hughes, a first-year school in south Fulton County.
"Nah, our guys didn't take them lightly," Kelley said. "We just came out flat. We didn't have any intensity and that was my fault. I set the tone. I just told them to keep sawing the wood, and the tree will finally fall. We just had to pick it up on the defensive end."