No. 5 Cedar Shoals steals win at No. 7 Heritage-Conyers

No. 5 Cedar Shoals 54, No. 7 Heritage 51

Basketball is a 32-minute game. For 26 minutes, host No. 7 Heritage was the better team, crushing the offensive glass and sinking four first quarter threes, but as all good teams do, No. 5 Cedar Shoals was able to weather the storm and in the end found a way to pull out another Region 8 victory and move to 18-2 overall and 9-1 in region play after edging the Patriots 54-51.

The Jaguars brought a great crowd as both lineups were greeted with smears of boos and cheers echoing throughout the gym as if it were a neutral site. Coach L’Dreco Thomas said before the game that their goal was to keep the slashing Patriots out of the lane and force them to hit open jumpers – they did. Heritage buried four three-pointers in the first quarter paced by Jordan Thomas, who would sink five on the night en route to a team-high 15 points, giving the Patriots a 22-11 lead at the end of one.

With Heritage nailing nearly every open look it had, the Jaguars had to search for the light at the end of the tunnel. It was hard to find any positives in the first quarter however as the Patriots pounded Cedar Shoals on the glass to take a 17-5 rebounding advantage after eight minutes. The Jaguars would lose the rebounding battle on the night 34 to 21, but through quarters two through four, sewed up the tally, 17-16.

Heritage’s 6-foot-6 center Makyle Wilkerson sat with foul trouble for most of the half meaning 6-foot-2, 200-pound Marquis Davis had to step in. Davis, who looks more like a linebacker, gave the Patriots a spark inside collecting five points off the bench in the second quarter and finishing the game with seven points and seven rebounds.

Makyle Wilkerson played well when he was on the floor
Makyle Wilkerson played well when he was on the floor
Marquis Davis played great for Coach Vernon Denmark
Marquis Davis played great for Coach Vernon Denmark

The second quarter belonged to Phlan Fleming and the Jaguars. Held scoreless in the first, the junior swingman hotly recruited by SOCON schools got going. He led an 18-9 Cedar Shoals second quarter with nine of his 11 points. Coach Thomas elected to come out of their zone and extend into a press that began to rattle the Heritage ball handlers while switching the tempo and momentum into the road team’s favor, leading to a 31-29 halftime score; the Jaguars never holding the lead.

While it was Fleming’s second quarter, the third belonged to Cedar Shoals’ Snipe Hall. The junior poured in 11 of the Jaguars’ 15 third quarter points, the other four being scored by point guard Jerrick Mitchell. As Hall worked his way to a game-high 16 points, the Jags still never captured the lead and Davis would make sure the Patriots had the advantage heading into the fourth, scoring off a tip-in as the clock expired, giving Heritage a narrow 46-44 lead entering the final period.

Seen so many times before, teams in an early hole usually spend all of their energy just trying to claw back into the game and in the end fall short. Not Cedar Shoals. When the going got tough, the Jaguars sank their teeth into the Patriots, clamping down and allowing just five fourth quarter points. Senior guard Greg Smith, who was held scoreless through the first 25 minutes of the game, scored back-to-back buckets to give Cedar Shoals their first lead of the game, 48-46 with 6:06 left.

The Jags had finally climbed the mountain top, but would they be able to place their flag atop it? Nearly three full minutes passed without the score changing. With just over three minutes to play, Cedar Shoals took its largest lead of the game at 50-46. Having no momentum to speak of and no baskets coming easy, Byron Abrams took it upon himself to score two of his 11 points on the night to draw back within two. Twenty-two seconds later, Isaiah Banks hit Thomas in the corner for his fifth and final three of the night to make it 51-50 in favor of Heritage with 2:16 to play.

That bucket proved to not only be Thomas’ final points of the night, but the Patriots’ as well. Stavion Stevenson gave the Jaguars the lead back on a jumper. Banks was fouled with 1:36 to play but missed the front-end of the one-and-one. With 24.4 seconds remaining, it was Hall’s turn to miss a one-and-one, giving Heritage another breath. The Patriots went to Banks who drove to the rim but was swallowed up by two defenders, both Fleming and Hall blocking his shot. Banks retrieved it and tried to gather himself to go back up for two, but was denied again by Fleming and now Smith. A jump-ball was called with 7.9 left and the possession arrow pointing in Heritage’s direction. The Jags weren’t out of the woods yet.

Abrams burned two timeouts trying to inbound the ball and on the third try, Mitchell was called for a hold on Wilkerson, sending the big man to the line with a one-and-one opportunity to tie or potentially win the game.

Wilkerson’s free throw bounced on the rim three times before falling into Fleming’s hands. Fleming coolly sank both free throws with 6.2 seconds. Charles Moore raced up the court and pulled up for a clean look to send the game to overtime, but his shot rimmed out.

Cedar Shoals went 2-of-3 from the line in the fourth quarter and finished the night 7-of-12, while the Patriots went 0-of-2 in the fourth, and made just 3-of-9 during the game. The loss drops Heritage to 15-4 overall and 7-2 in region play; both losses to teams ahead of them with No. 4 Gainesville (11-3, 9-0) in first-place.

It was standing room only for the final possession
It was standing room only for the final possession

My Take: The already late 8:30 start time was pushed back to 9:40 after JV games ran late. This classic wasn’t finished until after 11 P.M., but boy was it a good one. It played out how I expected: two evenly matched teams with great balance, not giving an inch to the opponent. Cedar Shoals started off slow and Heritage, coming off a 96-68 inexplicable blowout loss to Brookwood, looked hungry and ready to blow the doors off of whoever stepped foot on the court. Jordan Thomas was cooking early on from deep and helped the Patriots race to a 15-6 lead. After Heritage’s four three-pointer barrage in the first eight minutes, they hit only two the rest of the game. Byron Abrams showed good court vision throughout the game and attacked when needed. Senior Charles Moore did a steady job handling the ball. To open the third quarter Heritage really looked to play at their pace and decided to slow down the offense a bit, hitting the high post and looking opposite. Makyle Wilkerson didn’t get much burn in the first half due to fouls, but he is a nice athletic piece inside, finishing with eight points and five rebounds. Marquis Davis played great off the bench and was a main reason why Heritage wrecked the smaller Jaguars on the boards to open the game.

Cedar Shoals did what good teams do: find a way to win. Jerrick Mitchell is a speedy guard that was able to attack the rim and set up his teammates. His only flaw is that opponents don’t respect his jumper. Abrams literally shooed him off when he had the ball in the corner and told him to shoot it. Credit to Mitchell, knowing his game, he didn’t play into Abrams’ head-games and passed it off instead of forcing a bad shot. Both Snipe Hall and Phlan Fleming carried Cedar Shoals at times. Both teams have 3-4 guys that can go out and lead the team in scoring with 15+ any night, which makes it difficult to slow them down. Fleming got going in the second quarter showing off a nice feathery touch from the mid-range baseline. Even though he is the most recruited player on his team, he never forced the issue and played within himself while playing team ball. Stavion Stevenson didn’t have a huge game, but he battled inside and came away with two big buckets in the fourth quarter. When Cedar Shoals really needed stops, it got them. The Jags started in a 2-3 zone, but moved into a press that really got them back into the game. Both teams went about 7-8 deep. I envision both squads being extremely tough outs in the state playoffs. They might not have the true go-to guy like Gainesville has in D’Marcus Simonds (Georgia State) or Apalachee in Kamar Baldwin (Butler), but their balance is extremely tough to handle when they are clicking on all cylinders.

Top Performers

Cedar Shoals
Snipe Hall – 16 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block
Phlan Fleming – 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Jerrick Mitchell – 10 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals
Stavion Stevenson – 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block

Jordan Thomas – 15 points (five 3’s), 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Byron Abrams – 11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists
Makyle Wilkerson – 8 points, 5 rebounds
Charles Moore – 7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists
Marquis Davis – 7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists
Isaiah Banks – 3 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists

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