Tag Archives: Game Stories

Hiram stings previously undefeated No. 7 Villa Rica

Hiram 63, No. 7 Villa Rica 57

With Region 7-AAAAA nearly all sewn up, lone Class AAAAA unbeaten No. 7 Villa Rica traveled to Hiram with their perfect 17-0 record in tow. After dropping in the Week 10 Class AAAAA poll, the Wildcats had an opportunity to pass the eye test and earn yet another road win. Instead, the Hornets (12-7, 6-3) stung Villa Rica (17-1, 10-1) and handed the Cardiac Cats their first flatline of the year, 63-57.

Hiram jumped out to an early 12-3 lead with 1:26 remaining in the first quarter. 6-foot-8 junior center Nathan Presnell hurt the smaller Wildcats inside. The football quaterback set the tone early with seven first quarter points including a put-back slam to get the crowd into it.

Villa Rica was able to compose themselves and clawed back into the game on an 8-0 run to close the quarter. Caleb Smith finished through contact for an And-1, as did JJ Franklin, but both missed their free throw attempts. Franklin was able to grab the carom off his miss and added a lay-up to effectively cap off a four-point play, cutting the Hiram lead to 12-11 after eight minutes.

Threes from Raphael Rogers and sophomore Arshard Crepsac expanded Hiram’s lead to 26-18 at the 3:37 mark of the second quarter. Just when it looked like the Hornets would pull away and push their lead into double digits, Villa Rica would answer back. Latrell Swanigan scored eight points in the second quarter and gave the Wildcats their fourth And-1 opportunity of the half, converting on the free throw to cut the lead to five at 26-21.

Hiram carried a 37-27 lead into the half, led by Presnell’s 11 points and Crepsac’s three threes. Darius Johnson scored eight of his nine points in the frame to give Coach Darius Hodge’s team some cushion.

Crepsac knocked down his fourth three-pointer of the game to give Hiram a 42-31 advantage at the 5:45 mark.

With the game slipping away, Coach Jason Robinson turned to senior guard Javonte Hart. After a quiet two-point first half with no field goals made, the 5-foot-11 playmaker began to go to work. Hart sparked an 8-0 run, fueled by his two threes and an assist.

As Hart came to life, so did 6-foot-6 junior Micah Hodges. The Wildcat used his length on the offensive glass and scored five of his 11 points in the quarter.

The quarter ended on Hart’s 10th point of the stanza, scoring on a buzzer beater to bring the deficit to 48-44.

It looked like momentum was finally swinging into Villa Rica’s corner, but the Wildcats were never able to seize a fourth quarter lead.

Jayden Henry finished on an And-1 off a put-back to grow the lead to seven points and then Presnell found Khalil Baker on a high-low feed to make it 53-44 with 5:57 to play.

Slowly, the Wildcats started to inch closer but were burning clock in doing so. Hart drove and dished to Franklin for a three to make it 56-52 at the 47.3 mark. After a Johnson five-second call, the Wildcats regained possession, but subsequently turned the ball back over on a travel.

With Hiram leading 59-55 with 17.8 seconds remaining, the Hornets threw the ball away on the inbound and Hart came away with the steal and was sent to the foul line. Hart split the free throws and Crepsac was fouled and hit two free throws to seal Villa Rica’s fate, the lefty going 6-of-6 from the line for the game, 4-of-4 in the fourth quarter and finishing with a game-high 18 points.

My Take

I was expecting a very competitive game and that’s exactly what I got. I think this week’s Spielin’ & Dealin’ hit the nail on the head with Villa Rica, so there’s no need to beat a dead horse. Javonte Hart was impressive and nearly willed his team to victory, finishing with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. He made winning plays and took advantage of Hiram’s smaller/less physical guards. One thing Villa Rica has going for them, is that they are very balanced, seeing four players crack double figures. At the same time, I’m not sure they have a true “go-to guy” that they can put the ball in his hands and he can get them a bucket whenever they need it. Hart was the closest thing to that tonight, but outside of Region 7, the competition is much different and much tougher. No. 1 Buford was in the house scouting – it’s imperative for anybody in the region to avoid the Wolves. Villa Rica doesn’t have much size outside of 6-foot-6 Micah Hodges, who showed flashes in the paint. Wings Latrell Swanigan and JJ Franklin hit two threes apiece.

Nathan Presnell should be on college programs’ radars. The 6-foot-8 junior averages 15 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He is the quarterback of the football team. He is a good athlete with nice footwork in the low post. If he focused all his time into basketball, he could be a guy that receives D-I interest. He has a little current Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket and former South Forsyth star Evan Cole in his game, but he’s not as refined. He was comfortable taking 15-footers, although his shot was flat tonight. He was active on defense, not just blocking shots but getting deflections and saving loose balls. In a state that’s often been starved for true size in the post, Presnell could be an option in 2019. Sophomore Arshard Crepsac caught my eye as well. The sophomore is 6-foot tall and possesses a pretty lefty stroke that was on point. He showed his mettle going 4-of-4 from the line late in the fourth quarter as well. He has some smooth qualities but will have to be able to get to the hole more, as on Thursday, all his points came from beyond the arc or the foul line. Khalil Baker hurt the smaller Villa Rica frontline at times too. He’s not as polished as Presnell in the post and didn’t look like much of a threat when on the baseline from 10-15 feet, but Baker worked hard on the glass and had a nice left-handed hook on a duck-in seal off a high-low. Baker is a guy who’s not afraid to mix it up in the paint and can scratch out some good minutes.

Top Performers

Arshard Crepsac – 18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals
Nathan Presnell – 16 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Khalil Baker – 10 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
Darius Johnson – 9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
Jayden Henry – 7 points, 1 rebound

Villa Rica
Javonte Hart – 15 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks
Latrell Swanigan – 13 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks
JJ Franklin – 12 points, 5 rebounds
Micah Hodges – 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks

No. 8 Elbert County withstands 11 three-pointers to sweep No. 9 Banks County, 61-56

No. 8 Elbert County 61, No. 9 Banks County 56

Wins don’t come easy in Homer, Georgia for opponents that enter the jungle. Heading into Tuesday’s Region 8-AA Top 10 clash, No. 9 Banks County (18-4, 7-2) held an 11-1 record at home and a 34-5 mark over the past three seasons in their friendly confines, often covered in blue. The defending region champs welcomed in No. 8 Elbert County (19-3, 9-1) as the two teams held a share of first-place with the Blue Devils defending their homecourt back on January 5th with a 61-50 win, jolting Elbert County into the rankings. After finishing 14-15 (6-6) in Year 1 under longtime Etowah head coach Don Hurlburt, the upstart Blue Devils have taken on Hurlburt’s style of play and have found success and swagger. But to officially announce themselves as the team to beat, they would have to find a way to win in Banks County, where they lost 65-47 and 52-45 a season ago.

It was a slow start for both teams offensively as Banks County’s 3-2 zone forced Elbert County into lengthy possessions, typically upwards of 10 to 15 passes before the Blue Devils could take a shot, but even then, there were no promises it would be a good look. Elbert was tentative in attacking and getting all the way to the basket due to 6-foot-7 shot-blocker Dylan Orr lurking in the paint and the Leopards’ team defense, Gaitlin Lunsford drawing two of Banks County’s five charges in the opening quarter.

Carl Cleveland opened the scoring for the Leopards. The 6-foot-5 sophomore and coach’s son, drilled two threes while Orr provided a lefty hook off the glass to give Banks a 10-8 lead after 8 minutes.

Elbert County edged ahead at the 4:34 mark, 14-13, behind an AJ James bucket in the paint.

With a major size advantage inside, Coach Mike Cleveland wanted to play inside out. Carl spun in the lane and dumped down an assist to Orr.

Soon after, Orr returned the favor by drawing a crowd on the block and swinging it to an open Cleveland for a three to take a 20-16 lead.

Banks’ cushion didn’t last long as the Blue Devils closed the half on a 7-0 spurt to regain a 23-20 lead. Lefty Jacquavious Ramsey scored five points in the quarter while Jamison Syphore’s activity on defense gave Elbert the late advantage.

Only Cleveland, Orr and point guard Darius Bonds scored in the first half for the Leopards while Elbert County saw five players crack the scoring column.

Banks County quickly took back the lead at the 6:18 mark up 25-23 following a Gabe Martin trifecta. Elbert County, not panicked, tightened up their full court press with junior guard Ty Hill picking up the pressure on Bonds, collecting two steals and an assist while James, who scored 22 points in their first meeting, knocked down a three as the Blue Devils took their largest lead of the game on an 11-0 run, 34-25, before a Cleveland three sliced the lead back down to six with 3:20 remaining in the third.

With the deficit nearing double digits, the Leopards came out of their zone and attempted to match up man-to-man, an advantage for the quicker Blue Devils. But while the defense was leaking points, Bonds made up for it with three threes in the frame, cutting the lead to 36-34 with 1:18 to play.

Elbert County, who hit only three three-pointers on the night, received an answer from Jaqirus Harris right before the horn to nurse a 41-37 lead into the final quarter.

Both student sections were on their feet and the crowd in full throat as first-place in Region 8 came down to the wire. The Blue Devils pushed ahead in front of their raucous fan base to take a 47-40 lead with 5:16 to play.

Ramsey and Kobe Gaudelock found life easier with Banks County out of their zone, combining for nine points in the quarter, but it was James who did the heavy lifting for the Blue Devils. The 6-foot-4 junior scored nine of his game-high 19 points in the final frame, working the post and getting to the line, going 7-of-8 from the stripe.

Always dangerous with the three-ball, hitting 11 for the game, Banks County still had life as they crept closer on Martin’s second of the night, bringing the score to 51-47 with 2:50 left.

Down to 1:29 remaining on the clock, the Leopards began fouling trailing 55-49, but the Blue Devils were 6-of-6 from the line in the quarter at that point. The strategy began to work as Elbert went 6-of-12 in the final 89 seconds and three Martin free throws had the score at 56-52 at the 1:15 mark.

Banks County’s last chance to make things interesting came with 29.5 seconds to play when a Bonds three-pointer was half way down before popping out, which nearly made it a two-point game, but instead the score read 57-52 with Ramsey heading to the line to help ice it and secure a season sweep for Elbert County.

My Take

Class AA is probably my favorite classification to cover. Small school basketball with the vast majority of the kids growing up through the pipeline. The atmosphere at Banks County is unlike any other with the gym packed from the opening tip of the girls game to the final buzzer of the boys game. The strong tie to the community is apparent as little Leopards watched their favorite players and knowledgably cheered them on.

But on Tuesday, it was Elbert County’s night. The Blue Devils don’t jump off the court with major size, with AJ James their tallest at 6-foot-4, but the effort and tenacity are there. They battled the bigger Leopards and after landing a few body blows throughout, finally knocked out the defending region champs, sweeping the season series. Elbert was extremely patient and almost shy when probing the Banks County 3-2 zone. It took them a while to adjust, but they did. Instead of forcing up bad shots, they were content with swinging the ball around until they got an open look. James was the man inside and provided physicality and toughness in the post. Jamison Syphore is very active and rebounds well for his size, collecting 11 on the night. Elbert County doesn’t have a ton of floor spacers, hitting three threes as Kobe Gaudelock, one of their best shooters who had 18 points in their first meeting, was held to six points. Elbert will likely be more of a by-committee three-point shooting team with a handful of players able to knock one down here and there. Once Banks County came out of their zone, Elbert County’s athleticism took over and they were able to find much easier looks. The Blue Devils’ press really exploited Banks County’s lack of ball handlers outside of Darius Bonds. As a team, Elbert County came away with 12 steals.

Banks County drilled 11 threes at home but still lost – a tough pill to swallow. Carl Cleveland came out firing, hitting four from deep to finish with a team-high 18 points along with Bonds who also drilled four. Dylan Orr was a non-factor in the second half, held to zero points and two rebounds after posting seven points and six rebounds in the first half. Orr plays above the rim and blocks shots, but he went 1-of-6 at the foul line and was unable to impose his will. North Georgia Head Coach Chris Faulkner was in to see him. Darius Bonds shot the ball extremely well from deep. He has a ton of pressure on him to handle the ball handling duties and Elbert County’s Ty Hill and Tay Huff really dug into him in the third quarter and forced some turnovers. Banks County’s zone was very effective, but once pulled out of it, there were some holes. Their ability to draw charges makes their zone that much more effective, but when in man, it’s harder to be in position to take them on the chest. Banks County has been dinged up with injuries this year but are getting healthy at the right time and will be a tough team to beat if they can clinch home court advantage.

Top Performers

Elbert County
AJ James – 19 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal
Jacquavious Ramsey – 14 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals
Ty Hill – 9 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 4 steals
Jamison Syphore – 8 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal

Banks County
Darius Bonds – 18 points (4 threes), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 1 block
Carl Cleveland – 18 points (4 threes), 6 rebounds, 2 assists
Gabe Martin – 9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist
Dylan Orr – 7 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks

Troup County “Trusts the Process” in 65-62 upset of No. 7 Cartersville

Troup County 65, No. 7 Cartersville 62

There’s no better way to start your work week than with some Monday night basketball, afforded to us by last week’s snow-outs. Class AAAA No. 7 Cartersville (14-3, 7-1) entered with a perfect Region 5 record while host Troup County (9-8, 4-3) was in search of a signature win in Year 1 of the Blake Craft era. A successful defensive game plan coupled with red-hot shooting helped the Tigers weather a late Hurricane surge to send shockwaves through the rest of the region.

Cartersville opened with an early 5-2 lead with Isaac Gridley causing problems inside defensively, swatting away two shots in the first four minutes of the game. After seeing the interior temporarily closed down by Gridley, the Tigers turned to star senior guard Jay Jefferson to set the pace.

The unsigned 6-foot-2 playmaker created offense for his teammates, finding Tristen Ware for two of his eight points.

From that point on, Jefferson took it upon himself to carry the offensive load. He poured in 12 points including two threes that would give Troup a 16-12 lead after one.

While Jefferson paced the Tigers, senior TJ Horton led the Hurricanes. Known primarily as a slasher, the athletic 6-foot-3 guard got loose for two of his four three-pointers in the opening quarter, while Furman-signee Jaylon Pugh was held to two points on a pair of free throws.

Troup made a concerted effort to hone in on Pugh and forced the potent scorer to take contested shots, firing two air-balls in the first half.

As Pugh struggled, Jefferson continued to shine. He knocked down two more threes to finish with 18 first half points. He received help from sophomore point guard Trey Williams, who orchestrated the offense, collecting seven assists on the night and teaming up with Lenntavis Harper and others to slow down Pugh.

After trailing 28-18, on yet another Jefferson three-ball, Cartersville started to fight fire with fire. The Canes knocked down three straight from distance, two via Perignon Dyer and one from Luke Schiltz to close the gap to 32-27 with 1:20 remaining in the first half.

Troup County hit their sixth three of the first half and the 11th for the two teams combined with 12 seconds to play as Jarell Smith entered for the first time and immediately sank one from the corner to give the Tigers a 35-27 lead at halftime.

As both teams retreated to their respective locker rooms, the Cartersville coaching staff took about three minutes to collect themselves on the bench while their team had a players-only gathering. Whatever was said, didn’t effectively make a difference right away as the third quarter followed suit of the first two, as Jefferson came out firing with two more of his six three-pointers.

At the 4:58 mark, Pugh finally broke through with his first field goal of the game after a two-point opening half, bringing the deficit to 42-35.

The Tigers responded with a quick 5-0 spurt, capped by a Montez Crowe put-back to hold a 12-point advantage.

As Pugh remained dormant, held to three points in the quarter and now five for the game, Horton’s deft shooting kept the Hurricanes afloat. Every time the Tigers would knock down a three and look to put the game out of reach, Horton would answer.

At the end of three quarters, Troup County held a 52-41 lead.

In the fourth quarter with the game on the line, the volcano finally erupted.

A seemingly innocuous put-back at the 6:49 mark with Cartersville trailing 54-43, ignited a Pugh scoring binge. Troup did a nice job of trying to put their finger in the dike, but the levee eventually broke with Pugh sensing the time and game slipping away.

Pugh went on a personal 9-0 run to bring the score to 57-50 with 5:04 remaining after his second three of the quarter.

The onslaught continued with Horton finishing in traffic with a euro-step to cut the lead to 57-56 with 2:17 left to play, the Hurricanes storming back on a 15-5 run.

With the score the same and the clock now showing 1:45, Jkobe Orr picked up a technical foul after committing a personal on Alabama linebacker-commit King Mwikuta. The 6-foot-4 center split a pair of free throws, as did Jefferson, slightly extending the lead to 59-56 instead of making it a two-possession game.

Cartersville trimmed the lead back down to one at 59-58 with 53.5 seconds left. Crowe was fouled and calmly knocked down both attempts with 33.7 seconds on the clock to push the lead to 61-58.

Pugh had a decent look from the corner with an opportunity to tie the game, but Jefferson came flying in at the last second to contest the shot, leading to a miss and sending Jefferson to the line for two free throws, sinking them both.

Down three with 6 seconds remaining, Cartersville had an opportunity at a steal on a dangerous inbound, but Pugh was unable to whip his head around in time to track the ball and Jefferson came down with it and iced the game with two more free throws before a last-second uncontested Gridley layup, giving the Tigers a crucial 65-62 home win.


My Take

Jay Jefferson brought it from the opening tip tonight and outplayed Furman’s Jaylon Pugh. Jefferson proved to be a reliable ball handler for Troup County and showed he could finish in the lane to add onto his locked-in three-point stroke. He went 5-of-6 from the line in the fourth quarter to seal the upset. Jefferson has the skills to help out at the JUCO and D2 level. He has good size at the point guard position, which bodes well in college. The Tiger role players put forth a strong effort. For many of them, basketball is their second sport with football being their expertise. Their football toughness was on display not only physically, but mentally as well. Quarterback Montez Crowe had five points, none bigger than his two ice-water free throws with 33.7 seconds left in a one-point game. King Mwikuta isn’t overly skilled in the pivot, but he’s a strong body that can take up space in the lane and move opponents. Tristen Ware used his athleticism on the defensive end two reject two shots. Sophomore point guard Trey Williams played extremely well for someone who didn’t score. He had four rebounds, seven assists and one block. He made good decisions when driving the lane and was able to squeeze passes into tight windows.

TJ Horton was consistent throughout for the Hurricanes while Pugh slept-walked his way through the first three quarters before turning on the microwave. Horton displayed an all-around game, hitting threes, getting to the basket and handing out four assists. Troup County did an exceptional job of knowing where Pugh was at all times, but in the fourth quarter, the scoring dynamo put on his superman cape and nearly saved the day. His 4-of-7 shooting from the foul line however, summed up his disjointed night. 6-foot-6 junior Isaac Gridley was steady as always, providing nine points, nine rebounds and three blocks. He has a nice touch for a big man and could be an option at the NAIA level or maybe higher once he’s a senior.

Top Performers

Troup County
Jay Jefferson – 31 points (6 threes), 1 rebound, 2 assists, 1 block
Tristen Ware – 8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks
Lenntavis Harper – 8 points, 1 assist
King Mwikuta – 7 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block
Montez Crowe – 5 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
Trey Williams – 0 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 block

TJ Horton – 22 points (4 threes), 1 rebound, 4 assists, 2 steals
Jaylon Pugh – 16 points (11 in 4Q), 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal
Isaac Gridley – 9 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks
Perignon Dyer – 6 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists

No. 10 Etowah earns Cherokee County bragging rights on Senior Night against Creekview

No. 10 Etowah 60, Creekview 51

Good boys basketball in Cherokee County has been at a premium over the past decade. No. 10 Etowah (16-2) and Creekview (15-2) have tried to change that narrative this season. The Eagles, ranked in Class AAAAAAA, hosted the Grizzlies out of Region 6-AAAAAA, a team still on the search for a real resume building win, while Etowah already had scored wins over Southwest DeKalb, Peachtree Ridge and Lithonia. With their 15-game winning streak snapped last night in a 43-38 overtime trap game against Walton, the Eagles were focused on Saturday to make sure there were no lingering effects on Senior Night.

Etowah opened the game starting five seniors; regular starters Adrian Cohen (Tusculum), Carter Ingersoll (Claremont McKenna) and junior Jaxon Etter on the bench. Just 40 seconds into the game, Coach Jason Dasinger called timeout before the Eagles even had a chance to advance the ball into the frontcourt as the Grizzlies opened with a zone press.

Creekview took advantage of the situation and led 7-4 with 4:22 left in the first quarter before Dasinger subbed in his usual trio. Etter quickly hit Cohen for a corner three while 6-foot-7 Julian Baldwin had his way around the rim as Creekview’s 6-foot-6 James Wall watched from the stands, suspended after getting ejected for two technicals in Wednesday’s 74-71 win at Sequoyah. Baldwin was aggressive, knocking down two jumpers before attacking the basket and scoring 10 of his 16 points as the Eagles led 17-15 after eight minutes.

Dynamic scorer KJ Jenkins, the No. 4 ranked senior point guard in the GHSA, netted five points in the opening frame, but it was apparent that Etowah was committed to making someone else beat them. That someone else was nowhere to be found in the second quarter as the Eagles outscored the Grizzlies 16-3 in the frame.

Everyone got involved as things were clicking on both sides for the Eagles. Ingersoll knocked down a jumper to ignite a 16-1 run.

The Eagles forced countless turnovers and converted on the other end. Nick Nagy hit Za’ki Lowe for a late three to help Etowah carry a 33-18 lead into the half.

In the third quarter, it was more of the same. Etowah led by 22 at 43-21 at the 4:38 mark as Cohen bombed away from deep. The 6-foot-5 wing drilled two of his four three-pointers en route to eight of his game-high 18 points.

Creekview was on the verge of packing it in until a 39-second stretch changed the entire complexion of the game. Jenkins scored his first bucket of the second half with 39 seconds left. Grant Potts completed a 4-point play from deep. Then, after a wild inbounds, the Grizzlies came away with a Paxton Nayman steal which led to a Jenkins three at the buzzer, a 9-point spurt that turned a 23-point deficit into a manageable 50-36 hole heading into the fourth.

The madness continued in the fourth quarter as the celebratory home crowd grew quieter and quieter. Timmy Davis knocked down a corner three, followed by a Grayson Baker triple in the same spot. Baker scored nine of his team-high 12 points in the opening 3:43 of the final quarter, bringing the Grizzlies to within 52-48 with 4:17 remaining.

With flashbacks of the previous night coming all too true, the Eagles turned to Etter and Cohen to stem the tide. Etter and Cohen finished with back-to-back lay-ups to cushion the lead to 56-48 at the 2:38 mark.

With a 21-to-2 run now behind them, the Grizzlies ran out of firepower. Etowah responded with an 8-to-3 run to close a 60-51 victory, clinching their claim as the best team in Cherokee County.

My Take

The game played out how I thought it would – kind of. Etowah was the better team with more size and better wins. After paying homage to their seniors, the Eagles took off with their usual starters in the game. Julian Baldwin was at his best, attacking Creekview’s limited front line. Seeing two early jumpers fall through really gave the 6-foot-7 unsigned senior a boost of confidence. He set the tone in the first quarter and was Coach Dasinger’s cornerstone as they waited for the cavalry to arrive at the first substitution. Carter Ingersoll did what he does inside – the dirty work. I’m a fan of the 6-foot-6 post’s old school game. He collected 9 points and 7 rebounds and did it without the flash and frills. Adrian Cohen is major grab for Tusculum at the D-II level. Once primarily a slasher, Cohen has improved every season. He knocked down four three-pointers and picked up 7 rebounds. Jaxon Etter was quiet with 8 points, but he impacted the game where the scorebook doesn’t show. His steadiness played a big role in Etowah closing out the victory while it seemed everything was unraveling. He had four points in the fourth quarter, had a few nice passes and moved his feet well defensively, especially on top of the defense.

Coming into the game, I was concerned about who would be able to create their own shot outside of KJ Jenkins. Etowah locked down the potent scorer, holding him to a pair of threes, finishing with 10 points. Jenkins had no easy looks and no free passes to the basket. With deep range and the green light to pull, Jenkins tried to warm himself up with a couple tough, long threes that were contested. He was never able to get it going, which is why the Grizzlies were down big. Grayson Baker came to life in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t sustainable for the length of the game. Creekview’s most constant offense came from bruising Paxton Nayman inside. He had 11 points and 6 rebounds. For the Grizzlies to continue winning at a high clip, they will have to free up Jenkins more. If he’s not creating for himself, he must rely on finding spot up shooters. Creekview sank six threes on the night. Coach Casey Gramling’s offense is predicated on ball-movement as they just don’t have enough options that can consistently create their own shot outside of Jenkins.

Top Performers

Adrian Cohen – 18 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block
Julian Baldwin – 16 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
Carter Ingersoll – 9 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block
Jaxon Etter – 8 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block

Grayson Baker – 12 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
Paxton Nayman – 11 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block
KJ Jenkins – 10 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal

No. 4 Tri-Cities’ backcourt powers Bulldogs past Mays

Contributed by Rob Grubbs   (@RCGJr226070)

Sponsored by:   @sportalspace

No. 4 Tri-Cities 59, Mays 53

January 9, 2018 (Atlanta, GA): With their matchup Friday night against Class AAAAAA top-ranked Langston Hughes on the horizon, the fourth-ranked Tri-Cities Bulldogs (14-3) faced a potential trap game on the road against their region rival, the always tough Mays Raiders (8-8). Coach Omari Forts has led the Bulldogs on a four-game winning streak, including a victory over the sixth-ranked Jonesboro Cardinals in the Peach State Classic.

Tri-Cities won the previous game between the two schools on their home court back in December 72-55, but this one had all the ingredients for a dangerous game for the Bulldogs and their region title hopes.  Mays has had some tough luck this season; they have two 2-point loses and went toe-to-toe with Langston Hughes in December before losing by nine late. Head Coach William Faulkner has leaned on seniors Kendall Wimberly, Major Weems and Horace Wyatt, who bring somewhat of a football mentality to the court. In a contrast of two different styles, the Bulldogs utilized the quickness of a five-guard lineup to overcome the Mays height advantage for a hard fought 59-53 win.

Mays opened the game in a 2-2-1 zone press that the Bulldogs quickly sliced through for a 6-0 lead. Mays had to call their first time out of the game only two minutes in when Antonio Taylor checked in with a uniform infraction that only the game official noticed. The ensuing designed play saw Wyatt score the first bucket of the night for Mays on a mid-range jumper. Eli’sha King answered on the next possession with a hard work, offensive rebound and put-back. After Coach Forts subbed the entire bench at the half way point, a now proper uniformed Taylor made an excellent pass to Raider Maleak Bryant for a basket that cut the lead down to two. Mays held the ball for the final shot of the first quarter, but Jon Young grabbed the rebound for the Bulldogs and raced down the court for a lay-up at the buzzer to give them a 12-8 lead.

After an Eli Lawrence free throw to start the second quarter, the Bulldogs pressed for the first time in the game and got a quick turnover and an acrobatic reverse layup from Lawrence.  However, the Raider guards quickly steadied themselves and Wimberly would score three baskets in less than three minutes to reel the Bulldogs back in. Lawrence then decided to take the game over as he used his agility to knife through the Mays big men to score 11 of his game-high 21 points which gave the Bulldogs a 29-20 halftime lead.

A quick basket by Young gave Tri-Cities an 11-point lead to start the third. It felt as if they were about to take complete control of the game, but a hard, throw-down dunk by Wyatt seemed to calm the Raiders demeanor and when Weems hit a three, they had cut the lead to five. Mays would outscore the Bulldogs 18-9 over the next nine minutes to pull the game to within two with 6 minutes remaining, punctuated by another Weems three.

Mays had possession and prepared to set up offensively to tie the game when Lawrence got a clutch steal and then a quick basket by DeMarcus Johnson and they slowly began to expand the lead once again. Wyatt would hit two free throws for Mays to bring it back to a three-point game with 2:14 remaining, but Lawrence delivered the dagger with a three-pointer just under two minutes that put it away. Tri-Cities would finish this one out going 7-for-10 from the free throw line over the last minute to seal the 59-53 victory. With the combination of playing on their home court and getting key players back from football, the Raiders made up for the blowout earlier in the season and held their own against the No. 4 Bulldogs.

Coach Forts was very blunt in his post-game assessment, “Our defensive performance was very underwhelming tonight, we came in with a game plan to stop their best scorer and we did not do a good job, that gives us something to work on. On offense, we were very good, I was proud of how we played, I was proud of Jon Young, he was the reason we won tonight.”

When asked about how he coaches his team who is usually at a height disadvantage, he offered a unique perspective, “We play five guards, which is different, it means that two of our opponent’s big men must guard someone quicker than them, we like to exploit this to our advantage. We make up for a lack of height on the boards with overall toughness; we come to outwork you on the glass.”

The outcome sets up the Bulldogs’ showdown with the Langston Hughes Panthers on Friday for the top spot in Region 5-AAAAAA. The two powerhouse teams will play twice in eight days. Forts will need all that quickness and toughness to go up against Landers Nolley and the Panthers front court.  Mays will host Alexander on Friday night in another key region contest, they are trying to claw upward in the region standings.  They have improved and look to continue that going into the tournament.

Rob’s Takeaways

  1. Mays had a strong contingent of players that remained with their football team on their playoff run, which went into the third round. Their last football game was on November 24, 2017, which contributed to their 3-6 start. Since the football players have worked their way into basketball shape, they have gone 5-2. Look for them to continue and improve and perhaps pick up a surprise win along the way.
  2. Tri-Cities got impressive minutes from 6-foot-5 freshman Eli’sha King. He is a player to watch in the upcoming years for the Bulldogs.
  3. The Mays ladies’ basketball team won the AAAAAA state championship last year, but they have not raised their championship banner yet, it is on order and will go up later this season.
  4. Senior 6-foot-4 guard Eli Lawrence has the ability to take over a game, as he did tonight in the second quarter. He has a long, flexible wing span that can cut down quickly on passing lanes. He has a confident air about him and seems to be an extension of Coach Forts on the court.
  5. Going into Friday’s matchup with Langston Hughes, Tri-Cities Coach Forts wanted to point out, “We were the last team to beat them in a region game,” they knocked off the 2016 State Champions last year in the Region semifinals. However, Langston Hughes, playing without a suspended Landers Nolley, lost on Tuesday night at Alexander.
  6. Mays was a good test for Tri-Cities going into the Langston Hughes game, as they are big inside and prepared the Bulldogs for the matchup problems and opportunities that will exist.

Top Performers

Eli Lawrence – 21 points, 5 rebounds
Jon Young – 16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists
DeMarcus Johnson – 15 points, 5 assists

Kendall Wimberly – 14 points, 5 rebounds
Horace Wyatt – 12 points, 13 rebounds
Major Weems – 12 points, 4 rebounds