No. 2 Lithonia clinches Region 6 title with win on Senior Night

No. 2 Lithonia 56, No. 3 St. Pius 48

It was Senior Night for the No. 2 Lithonia Bulldogs. Parents, friends, family, balloons and flowers filled the court after the girls game as all the senior basketball players and cheerleaders took to the court. It was an emotional night, but there was still work to be done. First-place in Region 6-AAAA was on the line, a region that boasts the top 2-4 ranked teams in the state. With both Lithonia (18-4, 15-1) and No. 3 St. Pius (18-4, 12-3) beating No. 4 Grady (19-3, 13-2) in their second meetings, the Bulldogs now had the inside track to winning the regular season title if they could stop St. Pius.

In a nip-and-tuck game which saw the largest lead of the first half come in the form of a 4-0 Golden Lions start, Lithonia used a big third quarter to take control and hold on for a 56-48 win, all but ensuring themselves the region title in the regular season and the No. 1 seed heading into the region tournament.

The first quarter ended knotted up at 14, but one Bulldog showed more bite than usual on the big stage. Rodney Chatman, a senior guard committed to UT-Chattanooga, hasn’t been known for his scoring, usually taking a backseat to the likes of Tyheem Freeman, Jacara Cross and Tyleen Patterson, instead working to get those teammates open looks. Friday night however, was Chatman’s time to shine.

Chatman scored nine points in the first eight minutes, but he was just getting started. Jakob Spitzer hammered in a dunk to give the Golden Lions a 14-11 lead, but Chatman drilled a three at the buzzer.

It took nearly four minutes for Lithonia to score its first points of the second quarter. Once the lid was off the basket, Freeman, who scored 16 points, hit Robert Hatchett in the corner for three to take a 20-17 lead. Forty seconds later, Kerney Lane found younger brother Everett for three to knot the game back up. Lithonia entered halftime up 24-22 with the game still in the balance.

It wasn’t for long.

Coach Wallace Corker’s Bulldogs opened the third on an 11-3 run sparked by Cross. The 6-foot-7 big man posted 18 points and 12 rebounds in their previous meeting, a 55-44 win over the Golden Lions, but through the first half on Friday, he was held scoreless with two fouls. Chatman got him going, like a good point would. He lobbed an alley-oop to Cross for his first points of the game and after a wild scramble on defense, the Bulldogs came up with the loose ball. The ball was pitched ahead to Freeman who attacked the basket and dumped the ball off behind him to a trailing Cross who collected it and flushed it home to take a 35-25 lead with 3:34 left in the third, causing Coach Aaron Parr to burn a timeout.

Twelve seconds later, Cross picked up his fourth foul when Everett Lane pump-faked him inside, sending him and momentum to the bench.

St. Pius chipped away at the lead and cut it to 35-28 after a Kerney Lane bucket, but Chatman answered yet again with a three-ball.

The Golden Lions split a pair of Spitzer free throws with 1.1 seconds left and sent themselves into the fourth quarter down 38-29.

The fourth quarter belonged to Kerney Lane as he tried to will his team back into the game. Lane scored three straight buckets for the Golden Lions, sparked by a rebound off a Spitzer missed free throw, powering the ball back up for two. With 6:03 left, St. Pius trailed 41-35. Lane scored nine of the Golden Lions’ first 10 points in the quarter, but Chatman and Freeman were too much.

Chatman scored eight of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter while Freeman netted six to his tally. Sam Petry came off the bench to hit three late three-pointers for St. Pius, but it was too little too late as the Bulldogs reigned supreme on Senior Night.

My Take: Lithonia is one of the best teams in the state, and I don’t think I’ve seen them play their best game yet. Rodney Chatman and Tyheem Freeman were sensational for Coach Corker. Chatman has played the role of distributor all season long, but showed he can fill it up when he goes in attack mode, finishing with 24 points, six rebounds and three assists. Freeman is a great running mate alongside Chatman. Jacara Cross is an immense talent inside, making things look easy at times, but he is too susceptible to foul trouble and can be taken out of his game. Lithonia has as good a chance as anyone to make a deep state playoff run and win the state title, but if they want to do that, Cross cannot pick up silly fouls and have to sit on the bench. Tyleen Patterson, Lithonia’s second option in the post, is a reliable scorer, but he picked up two dumb fouls as well that luckily didn’t cost Lithonia. Pushing a player after a Bulldog basket and then next trip down, grabbing a rebound and throwing a blatant elbow while carving out space. The little things like that might not hurt you in the regular season, but come playoff time it will be something that needs cleaned up.

St. Pius had one of its worst shooting nights of the year. The Golden Lions left 10 big points at the line, shooting just 9-of-19. Their defense was able to keep them in the game however. It was just one big 11-3 run for Lithonia in the third quarter that gave the Bulldogs enough cushion. Kerney Lane took over in the fourth quarter for the Golden Lions, but couldn’t find enough help as the Bulldogs’ physical defense made St. Pius work for every hoop. Without Sam Petry’s three late threes, the score would have been a lot worse. Outside of Petry’s shooting, the Golden Lions weren’t able to stretch out Lithonia’s defense, hitting just two three-pointers. In the first half, St. Pius proved they can play with anyone in the state and warrant the No. 3 spot in AAAA. It was a tough night to struggle from the field, but the Lions should get another crack at the Bulldogs when it matters the most, in the region tournament.

Top Performers

Rodney Chatman – 24 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
Tyheem Freeman – 16 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Tyleen Patterson – 7 points, 5 rebounds
Jacara Cross – 4 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block

St. Pius
Kerney Lane – 19 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks
Sam Petry – 9 points
Christian Merrill – 7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals
Jakob Spitzer – 5 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block

Feature Photo By Mark Brock (DCSD)