Sloppy Fair Park falls at Neville in 4A

Coming into Friday night’s first-round matchup between 14-seed Neville and 19-seed Fair Park, many expected a back-and-forth contest between two of the hottest teams in 4A boys basketball.

Neville entered the game fresh off wins against 4A No. 10 Wossman and 3A No. 4 Richwood, while Fair Park clipped off a blistering 13-2 record down the stretch following a loss to this same group of Tigers back in December in the West Monroe Holiday Classic.

They got the back-and-forth part right, but both teams slugged through sloppy performances with Neville doing just enough to advance to regionals with a 55-48 win.

“You’ve got to give Fair Park credit. They came in and kept us off balance with their style,” Neville coach Phillip Craig said. “I don’t think even throughout the whole ball game we got into much of a rhythm but we’re onto the next round.”

Sloppy may not even be the best descriptor as the teams combined for 18 total turnovers in the first quarter. The Indians (18-11) scored the first six points of the game off Neville giveaways, but the Tigers (19-7) scrapped together a 8-0 run to take a two-point lead into the second quarter.

Fair Park was determined to make somebody other than Neville point guard Kavontae Turpin beat them and the Indian defense consistently kept the ball out of his hands. Craig adjusted by running the offense through Kylon Highshaw. After the Indians came back to retake the lead at the 3:13 mark, Highshaw rattled in a 3, followed by a last-second layup by Dequincy Smiley that gave Neville a one-point lead at halftime.

Highshaw did most of his damage in the third quarter, powering a skittish Neville offense by hitting a 3-pointer and attacking off the dribble en route to eight points in the period. Neville led 40-34 at the end of the third.

“I was able to find a hole in the defense when they doubled down and then hit just enough 3’s to make them respect it,” Highshaw said.

Foul trouble haunted Fair Park throughout the entire game and the Indians were forced to operate left-handed offensively when leading scorer D’Angelo McClinton went to the bench midway through the second quarter and didn’t return until the fourth.

Josh Smith and Emerson Taylor did their best to keep Fair Park in the game, but Neville built a double-digit lead with a timely 10-2 run that took the clock to the 1:12 mark. By that time — even with McClinton in the game — the Indian offense went cold.

Neville didn’t exactly ice the game with free throws, but just enough to keep the score out of reach.

“Being off for two weeks really showed tonight,” Fair Park coach Eddie Hamilton said. “I tell [the team] no coach is a good coach if you can’t put it in the basket. We did our jobs defensively but we just couldn’t score.”

Highshaw finished as Neville’s leading scorer with 20 points. Taylor had 10 for Fair Park. McClinton ended his long night with only 6 points.

Neville travels to Alexandria in the regional round and squares off against the three-seeded Peabody Warhorses.

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