By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
PEMBROKE – South Effingham forward Justice Mydell says changing the basketball culture is the top goal this season.
“In the past, if we were down, we’d give up, that was the culture. Now we’re buying in on ourselves,” Mydell said.
Case in point came last Friday night against Bryan County.
Less than 2 ½ minutes into the game, the Mustangs trailed by 12.
But Mydell and his teammates fought back by going to work on the boards. Mydell scored 21 of his team-high 23 points in the second half, and SEHS pulled away like a race car getting a green flag.
The 80-48 win over the Indians was the Mustangs’ first victory in three tries to start the season. SEHS won only three games last season, but there have been some signs that the Mustangs are much improved.
SEHS was competitive with Beach High in the season-opener, trailing by just four heading into the fourth quarter before falling 72-60. Last season, the Bulldogs went to the Final Four of the Class AAA state tournament.
The Mustangs’ other loss this season came in overtime on the road against Southeast Bulloch.
“The best thing about this team this year is the defense has improved,” SEHS coach Rico Campbell said. “The guys are playing with energy. It’s a good environment right now.”
Against Bryan County, the Mustangs sliced their initial deficit to three by halftime and used an 11-0 run in the third-quarter to pull in front for good.
Mydell had a key hustle play during the comeback. The Indians gave up on a loose ball that would have resulted in a backcourt violation. But Mydell sprinted after the ball, saving it just before it crossed the endline, and converted a layup.
Mydell had nine points in the third quarter and 12 in the fourth quarter, including a dunk in the final minutes to add a punctuation mark to the win.
“He’s taking it to the rim and he’s been working hard all season,” Campbell said. “I love the way he’s been playing.”
Rakeam Williams added 19 points and 19 rebounds and Isaiah Campbell had 12 points.
SEHS scored 53 points in the second half.
In the girls game, the Mustangs faced a different kind of adversity – foul trouble.
After 2 ½ minutes, Bryan County was already in the bonus. Three SEHS starters sat most of the first half after picking their third fouls.
Coach Alexus Parker’s squad saw a 17-point lead cut to nine by halftime, but a staunch second-half defensive effort produced a 71-40 victory.
SEHS (3-0) surrendered just one field goal during the first 11:41 after intermission and the 33-24 advantage shot to 30, 62-32.
“We changed our defense so the girls were switching on every pick and it helped,” Parker said.
The Mustangs defeated West Forsyth to start the season and stunned perennial power Beach High 58-20.
Parker said the play of Kay’Mar Griffin, Elena Hairston and She’Asia House ignited the quick start. Griffin had 17 points and 14 rebounds against Bryan County. Hairston had 15 points and House had 14.
SEHS played Dougherty and Chestatee in the Joe Greene Tournament in Savannah on Nov. 21-22.