FORT MYERS, Fla. — IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) junior forward Emmitt Williams had five first-half points and nearly as many fouls — three. But Williams and the rest of the No. 5 Ascenders shook off a slow start for a 62-59 defeat of No. 15 Norcross, Ga., at the City of Palms Classic on Saturday.
Williams had 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, taking over the game at times, including a late follow slam that put IMG up for good. Norcross (11-1) led by as many as eight points in the first half.
“I started off the first half rusty and the reffing was horrible,” Williams said. “I started thinking, ‘Don’t get frustrated.’ That’s what we talked about as a team and worked together and it all came out.”
Williams grew up in the area and played for nearby Lehigh (Lehigh Acres, Fla.) until he transferred to IMG last season.
“I was a little nervous,” Williams said. “This is the closest I’ve ever played to my hometown since I started playing for IMG. I got to see my mom and my family, who can’t always make it to see me play.”
IMG (10-0) faces No. 17 Neumann Goretti (Philadelphia) on Monday, giving Williams more opportunities to play at home.
“He loves his hometown,” IMG coach Vince Walden said. “The kid is such an emotional and loyal player. I’m excited we were able to get him to be able to play here. He deserves it. It’s always tricky when a kid goes home. The emotion can help you or get in your way. He got off to a slow start and it was probably because of that.”
Another reason the Ascenders might have started slowly is the game was delayed nearly an hour because of a uniform mixup. Thinking that Norcross would wear its traditional blue away jerseys, IMG brought its gray jerseys, which it wears at home at time. But Norcross wore its gray away jerseys and IMG coaches had to go back to the team’s hotel for their white home jerseys.
Williams said coaches told him he needed to run up and down the hallway to break a sweat to get ready.
“I told them to put me in the game and then I’ll be ready,” Williams said.
While Williams was in foul trouble, his defense also was one reason why Norcross star big Rayshaun Hammonds also struggled. Hammonds had 11 rebounds but only 10 points, including only three after halftime. The Blue Devils were hurt by their 15 turnovers, but that may have been because of IMG’s defense.
“I think we have offensive weapons, but we want to hang our hat on playing defense,” Walden said. “We challenged them at halftime to really guard the bounce. I think our culture won today. I think our group can handle a little adversity.”