Jalen Smith has Rhea on a roll

Jalen Smith has Rhea on a roll

February 11th, 2013 by Gene Henley in Sports - Preps

Honorable Mentions

Keely Frederick, Sequatchie County: She averaged 26 points and 14.7 rebounds for the Lady Indians in a 1-2 week.

D'Mondta Smith, Hixson: He averaged 19.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, five blocks, 3.7 assists and 1.3 steals in three games, also eclipsing the 1,500-point mark during the week.

Rhea County head basketball coach Mike Phillips envisioned two options for senior guard Jalen Smith on the last play of Tuesday's 73-70 victory over Cleveland.

Smith chose the third option. Moments later, Phillips had nothing to complain about.

Smith's 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Golden Eagles the three-point win. He finished with 41 points, four rebounds and three assists, shooting 54 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range while knocking down 7-for-8 at the foul line. His efforts in that one game alone were enough to earn him Times Free Press Player of the Week honors.

Rhea enters the District 5-AAA tournament as the No. 5 seed with a 11-15 record after a 70-61 loss at Cumberland County on Saturday evening. Yet they've won five of their last seven games, highlighted by the wins over Cleveland and Ooltewah -- the tournament's top two seeds.

In his last nine games, the 6-foot-2 guard -- who is being recruited by Bryan College and Lee University -- is averaging 28.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, with averages of 22.8 and 5.2 respectively, over the course of the entire season.

"He carried us. He literally put us on his back and willed us to the win," Phillips, who admitted he was preparing for overtime, said. "I've been watching him over the past two, three weeks and he's had more focus in practice."

Phillips called for the 1-4 set Tuesday because he felt, with Smith's strength, that he would be able to get to the line and potentially win the game.

"During our last timeout, we knew Jalen was hot and wanted to get the ball in his hands," Phillips said. "I told the other guys to get to the baseball because I wanted him to get to the hole and either score or get fouled. If he would have got the rim, he would hopefully either get fouled or hit the layup.

"Give Cleveland credit; they did a great job defending him, and when the shot went in, it really caught me by surprise."

At one point, the team was 6-13 overall and mired in a slump which featured 11 losses in 14 games. The turnaround hasn't been just Smith -- although he's played a major role -- but also the team starting to get accustomed to Phillips, in his first season after coaching in Florida.

"I definitely think that we're hitting our stride," Phillips said. "The guys have bought into working hard and playing man-to-man defense for 84 feet. They've bought into everything I've asked them to and that's why we've been playing as well as we have.

"We've gone from competing to winning, and I told them that they haven't played their best ball, but right now, we're peaking."