Panthers’ comeback falls short at Day 1 of the Peach State Classic

No. 4 Fayette County 64, No. 6 Southwest DeKalb 56

Class AAAAA contenders collided at Day 1 of the Peach State Classic held at Clayton State University and hosted by Revelle Williams. No. 4 Fayette County and No. 6 Southwest DeKalb both had a chance to make a statement and shakeup the poll with a strong performance.

Darius Hogan got the Panthers off to a good start with back-to-back threes, but Fayette County didn’t blink and played an exciting brand of basketball led by Furman-signee Noah Gurley at the backend of the defense. The long and lean 6-foot-8 forward swatted away three shots in the opening period as the Tigers held a 12-9 lead heading into the second quarter.

Fayette County ran out to a 10-2 run to open the second quarter and led 22-11 following an Austin Nesmith alley-oop to Gurley. Sophomore Josh Dupree got loose in the quarter and scored nine of his 11 points, slicing to the basket and showing a deft jumper. The Tigers led 37-22 at the half using a balanced scoring attack.

Midway through the third quarter, Fayette County continued to extend its lead going up 40-24. Josh Archer and Mandarius Dickerson struck life into the Panthers and helped Southwest DeKalb close on a 15-4 run.

Nesmith drove to the basket late and didn’t get a foul call and barked at the referee which resulted in a technical with 1.2 seconds left. Hogan sank both free throws cutting the Tigers lead to 44-39 entering the fourth.

Southwest DeKalb’s steady climb back into the game rolled on. At the 4:51 mark, it looked like Gurley got a clean block on Eugene Brown III, but instead a goaltend was called and the lead was trimmed to 46-45.

The Panthers finally took their first lead of the second half off Kadarius Johnson’s offensive rebound and put-back with 4:10 left at 47-46, but the lead was short lived as Phillip Young sank a pair of free throws. Nesmith made it a three point game with 2:50 remaining on a floater.

Jaylen Holloway added on an And-1 layup, but missed the free throw, keeping it at 54-49, but Dickerson came down and drilled a three to make it a one possession game with 2:17 to play. Just six seconds later, the Panthers suffered a huge blow as Dickerson, their leading scorer, fouled out with a team-high 15 points.

With 59 ticks left after weaving around the defense and running some clock, Nesmith tossed another alley-oop to Gurley to extend the lead to 58-52.

Quincy Carter added a layup with 23.9 seconds remaining to make it 60-56 and Archer got a steal, but he missed the frontend of a 1-and-1 with 17.2 seconds left and Gurley grabbed the board and dished ahead to Young who was fouled and drained both free throws. The Tigers iced the game at the line, going 14-of-15 in the fourth quarter and 25-of-29 for the game.

My Take

This felt like an Elite Eight matchup; maybe even deeper. The Tigers look seriously poised to make a deep run at state this year with their bevy of seniors. The only question will be their depth if they get into foul trouble. Noah Gurley was dynamic defensively, blocking seven shots and flirting with a double-double. Four guys scored in double-figures for a balanced offense. Phillip Young is an active and willing rebounder from his guard position and his 12 points and 11 rebounds prove that. The lefty did a good job at getting to the foul line and converted when he was there, going 8-for-8. Fayette County’s excellent free throw shooting as a team will bode well come tournament time. Sophomore Josh Dupree was impressive with his explosiveness and jumper. He put on the quickest and tightest crossover I’ve seen all year in the first half. I would have liked to see him make more of an impact in the second half however as he was shutout over the final 16 minutes. Austin Nesmith is a clean ball handler while Jaylen Holloway brought some energy and toughness off the bench.

I feel like Southwest DeKalb is at its best when they are pressing. They used it on and off and it helped them get back into the game in the second half as they sped up the Tigers. Mandarius Dickerson played very well before fouling out. He was aggressive and it was the best I’ve seen him play in a Panther uniform. Coach Eugene Brown’s depth is fun to watch. He can throw flanks of men out there and each can contribute in their own way. Eight different players scored tonight. Tabais Long didn’t get in, but when he’s available he brings a nice physical presence to the low post. Southwest DeKalb’s aggressive defense led to 15 steals paced by four apiece from Darius Hogan and Kadarius Johnson. Offensively, I liked how the Panthers swung the ball around the perimeter which often led to open shots, even though Southwest only hit two threes outside of Hogan’s opening two from distance. The Panthers could have rolled over and took a beating when they were down 15 at the half but Coach Brown and staff does a great job of keeping them focused and not letting them give in. They fought back and took a lead in the fourth quarter, which is all you can ask for after a large early deficit.

Top Performers

Fayette County
Noah Gurley – 18 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 7 blocks
Phillip Young – 12 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 blocks
Austin Nesmith – 12 points, 3 assists, 2 steals
Josh Dupree – 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Jaylen Holloway – 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals

Southwest DeKalb
Mandarius Dickerson – 15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block
Josh Archer – 11 points, 1 rebound, 2 steals
Kadarius Johnson – 8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals
Darius Hogan – 8 points, 2 rebounds, 4 steals
Quincy Carter- 6 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals