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LaFayette rambles past Generals behind third quarter dominance

LaFayette 69, Heritage-Catoosa 56

Region 6 bragging rights and first-place were on the line Tuesday night up in Ringgold where Heritage-Catoosa (3-3) hosted LaFayette (4-0).

Knowing that the offense revolves around 6-foot-4 senior forward Jon Morgan and 5-foot-11 junior point guard Alex Kelehear, the Generals opened up the game face guarding Morgan.

It took the Ramblers a moment to figure out the defense and get Morgan the ball, so instead he decided to get it himself off a rebound and score a tough leaner in the lane to open up his scoring and give LaFayette an early 9-6 lead.

Andrew Pendergrass and Morgan combined for 14 first quarter points while the Generals looked to play through 6-foot-5, 225-pound post Cole Wilcox. The UGA baseball-signee went to work early, showing his physicality and passing ability. He and Adam Thacker attacked from the post while Will Allen put in five of his 10 points in the opening quarter.

Kelehear dished out four of his game-high six assists in the first quarter including hitting Morgan for a three to take a 17-14 lead into the second quarter.

The Ramblers started to gain some separation in the second quarter once Kelehear started to hunt his own shot. A transition layup and a pull-up three sparked a 7-2 run to put the LaFayette lead at 24-16 with 6:31 remaining.

With the game slowly inching away, Coach Kevin Terry pounded the ball back inside to Wilcox who worked the high post and found Thacker for an and-1 to stem the tide.

The Generals cut the lead to 31-30 and were about to carry their momentum into the second half but instead it was Kelehear isoing and finding a three off a beautiful reverse pivot to give the Ramblers a 34-30 halftime lead.

Opening up the third quarter, Heritage decided to go Triangle-and-Two on Kelehear and Morgan who scored eight apiece in the first half. Instead, the defensive strategy backfired with LaFayette breaking off a 9-0 run to push ahead 43-30 at the 5:41 mark. With all the focus on Kelehear and Morgan, Pendergrass feasted. After knocking down a handful of foul line jumpers in the opening 16 minutes, Pendergrass opened up to the three-point line where he sniped three long balls and finished with 10 of his team-high 18 points in the quarter.

LaFayette had landed the knockout punch with a 21-8 third quarter, capped by yet another Kelehear iso just before the buzzer, giving the Ramblers an insurmountable 55-38 advantage.

Heritage, who struggled to score from beyond the arc, finally loosened up the defense a little with two late threes, but had to force the ball inside to Wilcox as their only consistent scorer and playmaker. Wilcox scored eight of his game-high 20 points in the final quarter and finished with 11 rebounds and 4 blocks.

My Take

I fully expect LaFayette to win out and run the table in Region 6. There could be a slip up here or there but they are the best team with the most momentum rolling over from last year’s Sweet 16 trip. Alex Kelehear was the real deal at point guard. At 5-foot-11, he’s probably best suited for D-III, NAIA, or the right fit at the D-II level. What he lacks in size and explosiveness, he makes up for with his actual skill and savvy. He could have easily scored 20+ but instead he chose to run the offense and play within himself. He handled the ball well and had a good zip on his passes, the type you see from the state’s best pocket passers. He picked apart Heritage anytime he had an isolation 1-on-1 opportunity. He was so good, hitting two buzzer beaters and assisting on one. He’s exactly who you want to have the ball in their hands at the end of a game. Jon Morgan has some bounce and is another player that could help out a small school. The lefty can knock down the deep ball (two threes), is an active rebounder with nice hands (9 rebounds) and can handle the ball when needed. Andrew Pendergrass is a pure jump shooter, meaning he hardly ever puts the ball on the ground and will catch-and-shoot. LaFayette is very good when he is on. His mid-range jumper was clicking from the first quarter and he expanded it to the three-point line in the second half. Do I think LaFayette can compete with the Upson-Lee’s and St. Pius’ of the world in Class AAAA? No I do not; but with the right draw, LaFayette could scare some teams and advance to the Sweet 16 again. Whoever they will play in Region 5 will likely have more athleticism then they will have seen all year. If Jon Morgan gets in foul trouble, I worry about their interior play. Dee Southern starts at “center”, but is only 5-foot-11. For a Cinderella run, Kelehear will have to hunt his offense more often, Morgan will need to play huge and Andrew Pendergrass must be lights out from deep.

Heritage-Catoosa just didn’t have enough outside shooting. I appreciate them force feeding Cole Wilcox and Adam Thacker inside. They are a good duo at that level. Wilcox got off to a nice start but left a ton of shots short at the rim. The Generals only played six players and really ran out of gas in the third quarter once the Ramblers hit them in the mouth to open.

Top Performers

LaFayette
Andrew Pendergrass – 18 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block
Jon Morgan – 15 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block
Alex Kelehear – 15 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals
Dee Southern – 8 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
Vyshonn Daniel – 8 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal

Heritage
Cole Wilcox – 20 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 4 blocks
Adam Thacker – 16 points, 9 rebounds
Will Allen – 10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists
Luke Grant – 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block

Early Season Surprise Hot Starts

Class AAAAAAA

Mountain View (8-1)
2015-16: 13-13

I praised the team chemistry of Mountain View throughout the summer with the Georgia Heat Check program and their year round commitment has paid dividends so far this season, making it not much of a surprise. Mountain View’s only loss has come to Class A-Private No. 1 Greenforest, 67-49 at the Jared Cook Classic. Outside of that lone defeat, the Bears have already picked up two victories against ranked teams, beating Class AA No. 7 Butler 64-48 and No. 9 Duluth this Tuesday, 72-56. The 8-1 start is the best start in school history, the young seventh year program in search of its first postseason appearance. The sharpshooting of Spencer Rodgers has paced the Bears but the growth of Miles Long at the point guard position has been crucial as he has flourished since Donell Nixon’s transfer to Buford. Long dropped 20 points in the Bears’ win in Augusta over Butler.


South Gwinnett (5-1)
2015-16: 5-20

“I know we got the guys that want to compete and get better. We’ve got the pieces. I’m excited, I think we have a special year in store for us,” is what first-year head coach Ty Anderson said at Gwinnett County Media Day. His proclamation has come to fruition thus far as the fiery leader already has tied last year’s win total. The Comets’ only loss came to against Parkview at the Parkview Tip-Off Classic, 62-55.  Wins over Woodstock and Lambert highlight the resume. Seniors Brycen Lee and D’onte Torrence have led the renaissance under Anderson’s guidance. The Comets face their biggest test of the season on Friday as they host No. 2 Newton.

Class AAAAAA

Richmond Hill (6-1)
2015-16: 17-10 

Following a season-opening loss at Class AAAAA No. 10 New Hampstead, the Wildcats have played well. They were shutout of the postseason last year in disappointing fashion and were tasked with replacing leading scorer Isaiah Hill (20.3 ppg) heading into 2016-17. Richmond Hill scored a signature win this Tuesday, upsetting defending state champion and current Class AAA No. 4 Liberty County, 58-56. The Panthers were without Davion Mitchell and the ‘Cats took advantage, using Trey DeLoach’s 18 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 blocks to stun Liberty County. DeLoach is averaging 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3 blocks while fellow senior Montest Bumpers is chipping in 10.1 points and 3 steals.

Bradwell Institute (5-1)
2015-16: 6-19 

William Douberly has turned around Bradwell Institute in his first year at the helm. The Tigers won just 10 games in the past two seasons before Douberly’s arrival. Bradwell Institute has won five straight after losing at Class AAA No. 4 Liberty County to open the season. They have drilled Savannah 70-42 and blew out a tough Long County team 86-54. Senior point guard Darryll Johnson has been on a scoring binge averaging over 18 points per game while 5-foot-8 backcourt member Anthony Vicente has tossed in 10 points on average his final season. The Tigers test themselves against Region 2 power Brunswick on Friday.  Bradwell Institute and Richmond Hill will fight for playoff position all year long in the tiny five team region.

Class AAAAA

Chamblee (6-2)
2015-16: 7-19 

A blowout 66-47 loss against Stockbridge to open the year at the Southwest DeKalb Showdown has been the worst outcome of the season for the Bulldogs. Chamblee nearly upset No. 7 Miller Grove, 61-56 in their only other loss. They beat Class AAA No. 10 Redan 59-55 as their best W of the year. Seniors Odell Ferrell, Dazz Riggins and Glen Robinson have been crucial to the ‘Dogs’ turnaround.

Maynard Jackson (6-1)
2015-16: 15-14 

The Jaguars snuck into the playoffs last year by upsetting a then 22-2 Westminster team in the region tournament. There will be now more sneaking around this season however as former Tennessee State head coach Travis Williams now has the group playing to their full potential. The Jags’ lone loss came at No. 8 Riverwood, 68-67. Senior forward 6-foot-6 JaQuavius Hayes has been a monster inside, averaging 23.7 points, 13.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1 steal and 1.3 blocks a night. As good as he has been, the Jags have taken their game to the next level thanks to an improved supporting cast. Juniors Marquavis Carter and Keshun Byrd have provided scoring around Hayes. Carter is hitting 47% of his threes and is averaging 15.3 points while Byrd is pitching in 10.7 points.

Class AAAA

Salem (8-1)
2015-16: 17-12 

A lot graduated from last year’s playoff team, but the Seminoles are out to a quick start. Their only loss has come to Class AAAAAA No. 10 Tri-Cities, 57-51. Salem’s best win is a 67-56 home win over Arabia Mountain. Tehjuan Powell, Montez Swann, Kendrick Harris and Brandon Smith have all played important roles. They will try to keep pace with No. 3 Henry County in Region 4 as they visit No. 10 North Clayton on Friday, who is currently 0-2 in the region standings.

LaFayette (7-1)
2015-16: 12-13 

Although they aren’t ready to become a statewide player, LaFayette is taking baby steps to become a playoff contender in a wide open Class AAAA. The Ramblers have breezed past week competition up in Region 6, but were handed a 65-63 loss by Heritage-Catoosa, who takes over first place in the standings. Head coach Hank Peppers has rode star sophomore Alex Kelehear this season as the versatile playmaking guard projects to be an all-time LaFayette great. Tyrese Hunter, LaTrail McClinic, Andrew Pendergrass and Caleb Boyd have helped take some scoring burden off Kelehear’s shoulders.

Class AAA

No Surprises yet

Class AA

No. 8 Therrell (6-0)
2015-16: 14-9

The drop to Class AA has helped Therrell who is now ranked No. 8 in the state. Wins over Mays (76-71 OT) and at South Cobb (66-57) are high quality. Sophomore guard Anthony Edwards stands 6-foot-4 and is a future D-I ball player with a high ceiling. After playing with the Atlanta Xpress, Edwards is in tip top form, pouring in 36 points against Mays and 23 points and 9 rebounds vs. South Cobb. Consistent help will be key to Therrell sustaining their early success. Deandre Brown has helped out thus far, the 6-foot-2 freshman averaging double figures.

No. 5 Glenn Hills (4-1)
2015-16: 3-19 

Coach Travis McRae has already surpassed last year’s 3-win total. The Spartans announced their presence with a 62-56 win at Class AAAA No. 7 Richmond Academy last week, but fell at Lakeside-Evans on Tuesday, 88-83 in overtime, not a bad loss. Junior center Timmy Seller has been the anchor inside. The 6-foot-8 big man is averaging 12.6 points and 7.8 rebounds. On the wing, 6-foot-4 freshman John Whitehead is adding 9.6 points a night. CJ Bowers, Eric Farmer, Jordan Lord and Robert Drew are all scoring over 8 points per game, giving Coach McRae a dangerously balanced attack.

Class A-Private

Tallulah Falls (7-0)
2015-16: 13-13 

The Indians missed the Class A-Private playoffs last season and are clicking on all cylinders early on. A pair of 6-foot-5 seniors power Coach Jim Van Hooser’s offense. Josey Keene is averaging 15.4 points and 4 rebounds while Michael Van Hooser is dropping in 12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists. Michael Weidner is a scrappy guard that is posting 9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.6 steals. The veteran group’s top five scorers are all seniors. The Indians’ best win came against White County, 78-62. They will see a step up in competition in the upcoming weeks with their toughest game coming on January 6 at No. 6 Lakeview Academy.

Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (4-1)
2015-16: 4-19 

Derrick Mason has changed the culture of the program, already matching last year’s win total. The Chargers’ best win was their season opener against Preseason Top 10 ranked King’s Ridge Christian, 47-32. ECLA’s only loss was a 58-55 decision against Class AAAAA 6-2 Union Grove. On Friday the Chargers host No. 7 Tattnall Square Academy.

Class A-Public

No. 6 Twiggs County (5-0)
2015-16: 9-15 

Another case of a new coach maximizing talent, Twiggs County has skyrocketed to No. 6 in the state after a handful of impressive wins. They beat Preseason Class AA No. 9 Swainsboro 76-58 and stunned current AA No. 3 Dublin at Dublin 82-74 behind senior guard Zuri Brown’s 30 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists as well as senior Cortavious Ates’ 26 points and 6 boards. Coach Andrew Johnson has the Cobras striking with a potent offense that averages 75.6 points. Ates is averaging 20 points, Brown 19 and Juwan Brown 15. Twiggs County draws Dublin in a rematch this Friday with a chance to really solidify themselves as a Class A-Public power player.

No. 10 Schley County (4-0)
2015-16: 4-21 

Who knows how long it’ll last, but the Wildcats have already matched last year’s win total and find themselves ranked in the Top 10. They hang their hats on wins over previously ranked Hawkinsville (51-45) and at Marion County (82-78). Both wins very well may not be all that impressive in two weeks, but for now it’s been enough to get the ‘Cats recognized.