Kobe Smith knew the basketball was coming his way in crunch time. Most everyone in the gym did, too. Still, the Tyner senior could not be stopped when it mattered most as he hit turnaround bank shots, criss-crossed defenders and scored against double teams.
With a killer instinct, Smith scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as his drive to the rim helped the Rams open a new season with a 54-50 win at East Hamilton in a Hall of Fame game Tuesday night.
Playing with foul trouble and picking up a technical in the third quarter of a tie game, Smith kept his cool down the stretch and was focused on closing.
"I listened to my coaches who told me to calm down and take what I have," said Smith, who was a big part of last season's District 6-AA championship team. "I have a great group of guys who are looking for me, and I look for them. When they fed it to me, I knew I had to get the job done. I know we have a lot of work to do, but I love how we played tonight."
The Rams built a 23-9 lead after their fifth steal midway through the second quarter, but the Hurricanes' Darwin Randolph provided a major spark for the hosts scoring seven of his 19 points in an 11-0 run.
Tyner ended its scoring drought right before halftime as Melique Hambrick drained a 3-pointer. Hambrick made three of the game's five treys, helping to build a 44-35 lead with five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
"Melique had his first practice yesterday after coming to us from football," Rams coach E'Jay Ward said. "I was proud of his effort. If our team can lead the state in effort, I think the scorebaoard will take care of itself. I want fans to see our boys enjoy playing this game together and that they bring it every night."
While the Rams were without two starters, newcomer Tony Jackson — a senior transfer from McCallie — provided eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
East Hamilton's Ian Shropshire threw down a one-handed dunk to pull his team within five midway through the fourth, but Smith extended the lead back to nine soon after with a shot high off the glass even with two defenders hovered over him.
"We took charge in the fourth quarter thanks to Kobe Smith," said Ward, whose team led 35-33 going into the final eight minutes. "You give it to him. He is a veteran, and I expect him to do that. We are going to lean on him a lot, and hopefully our team can rally around him."