In the final game of the NOHS MLK Classic, the North Oconee High School boys basketball team took down 7A Lambert High School 64-55.
It was an impressive win for the Titans, who showed toughness and poise throughout the night, going toe-to-toe with a higher classification team.
“It was nice to get a win against a really, really good team. They have a balanced team, and all their players are very capable. It’s a lot like our team in that way, you’ve gotta guard every player,” North Oconee head coach Rick Rasmusseen said. “I thought it was a very even-matched game. It was good to be at home, good to protect our home court and a big win for us to beat a 7A team like that.”
North Oconee started strong, jumping out to a 21-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. The offense and defense were clicking and it looked like the Titans were primed for a statement blowout victory.
Instead, the game tightened up in the second half, allowing NOHS to make a different statement, showing the grit and ability to play under the pressure of a comeback attempt that often defines winning teams.
“We kind of threw the first punch and they punched back later,” Rasmussen said. “I thought we weathered that well, and that was big for us.”
Senior guard Byrd Carter achieved a major career milestone, scoring his 1000th career point late in the fourth quarter. He is the 14th basketball player in program history to hit that mark. Carter led the Titans in scoring with 17 points, including several key baskets in the second half.
Justin Wise scored 15 points, adding 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in a strong all-around effort. Wise played with confidence throughout the night and showed high-level scoring ability and the savvy to create his own looks.
Sophomore Khamari Brooks was impressive throughout the game on offense and defense. Brooks finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and three steals. His toughness and willingness to play with physicality helped set the tone for the game and contain Lambert’s bigs.
As a team, the Titans showed consistent unselfishness and an emphasis on ball movement to find the best shot. The chemistry on offense and understanding of the system was also impressive. Even when the game tightened up, the players did an excellent job of playing within themselves, not pressing and falling into taking worse shots.
Rasmussen recently hit a milestone of his own, earning his 400th career victory in the Titans’ road win over Walnut Grove last Friday night.
After the Lambert game, Rasmussen reflected on the achievement, praising the coaches and players he’s worked with in his career.
“The thing I’m proud of the most is the camaraderie, family environment of all the teams we’ve had,” Rasmussen said. “We’ve had great assistant coaches and great players. Without the players that buy in and commit, you could never have the success we’ve had. We’ve done it in 19 years, with a 74% winning percentage. I think we’ve done it the right way.
“We’ve got high character kids and high expectations of them and we love basketball and if you don’t love basketball it doesn’t really fit for us. We’ve got kids that love basketball, love to be part of a family. And you know, in our huddle, we say ‘North on three and family on six,’ and we mean it. We’re a family.”
Rasmussen also made a point to thank his wife and family for their support throughout his career.
“This milestone could not have happened without God blessing me with a wonderful wife, Tiffany, and our family who understand and support my passion for coaching and who have been beside me every step of the way,” Rasmussen said.
The Titans are 16-3 after defeating Chestatee 81-48 on Tuesday night. Up next is a big region game at home against Seckinger on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. The Jaguars defeated North Oconee 63-61 on December 8. The Titans will then take on Oconee County on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.