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No. 2 St. Pius blitzes No. 7 Stephens County 79-65

No. 2 St. Pius 79, No. 7 Stephens County 65

From the opening tip, No. 2 St. Pius (8-1) was on a mission to take care of business at the beautiful Currahee Arena. No. 7 Stephens County (6-1) turned out the lights to bring a raucous atmosphere into play, but the home standing fans were quickly negated by the Golden Lions’ 9-0 run just 1:16 into the contest.

Instead of using a timeout to try and slow down St. Pius’ defensive harassment and three-point barrage, Coach Chad Bridges elected to try and let his guys play through it, a plan that backfired. The Golden Lions attacked and attacked. Zach Ranson came off the bench and quickly picked up a steal and assist to Brian Gonzalo.

When the dust settled from the first quarter, it was a 27-9 St. Pius advantage. Interestingly enough, the Golden Lions got out to their hot start with point guard Matt Gonzalo on the bench to begin. Stephens County sat 6-foot-7 post DeUndra Singleton to begin as well. Tae Thornton looked like the only Indian ready to handle the Lions’ non-stop pressure defense, but against a team like St. Pius, it takes more than one soldier to defend the castle.

After sinking five first quarter threes, the Golden Lions continued their onslaught, hitting four more in the second quarter. With the game already out of hand, Jackson Bell provided a small spark for the Indians, entering the game and picking up an And-1 opportunity off a put-back but the Indians still trailed 36-19 with 3:39 remaining in the half.

Stephens County went on a run and closed the gap to 41-28 with 55.2 seconds left, riding Thornton’s fearless play attacking the rim and setting up transition opportunities, but momentum was quickly lost as St. Pius closed on a 4-0 spurt including a Finn McCurdy put-back at the buzzer to take a comfortable 45-28 lead into halftime.

St. Pius opened up the third quarter a little sloppy as the Indians played fast and tried to use their length and athleticism advantages against the Golden Lions. At the 6:20 mark, Stephens County had clawed their deficit to a hoop away from being single digits at 45-34, but it would be the closest they would come in the second half. St. Pius quickly answered with an 8-2 run to balloon the lead back up to 53-36 hitting threes to crush the Indians’ spirit. Brian Gonzalo sank two threes in the period on his way to finishing with a team-high 15 points while brother Matt sank a triple, as did Patrick Snipes, contributing to the Lions’ 13 three-pointers on the night.

At the end of three quarters, St. Pius held a 67-45 lead and would milk it all the way to the final horn. Singleton scored eight of his game-high 21 points in garbage time while 6-foot-6 Ty Nails tossed in six of his 12 points in the same frame.

My Take

The gap between No. 1 Upson-Lee and No. 2 St. Pius and the rest of the field seems enormous right now. No. 3 Sandy Creek is quietly having a strong season, as are teams in Region 1 out in Columbus, but the Knights and Golden Lions are playing great basketball night in and night out. The Golden Lions’ press defense is suffocating. They put their foot on the Indians neck from the opening tip and never gave them an opportunity to even think about an upset. The Lions move the ball so well, they are most likely the state’s most efficient offense when they are clicking. Driving and dishing led to countless wide-open three-pointers; they had 21 assists as a team. Defenses will need to be on a string to be able to contest all of St. Pius’ open looks. Matt Gonzalo and Brian Gonzalo were at their best tonight, peppering the defense with their drives and their three-point shooting. Matt is one of the quickest guards with the ball in his hands in the state. Everett Lane buried his three-point chances and rebounded well for his size. I love what Niko Broadway and Patrick Snipes bring to the table. They aren’t flashy but they are trustworthy glue guys that are always in the right spot to fill up the stat sheet. I need to see more from Kennedy Willis inside. He struggled to make an impact and wasn’t able to really clamp down on DeUndra Singleton. At 6-foot-8, a reboundless game is not going to cut it.

Stephens County was just outclassed tonight. They are still a very dangerous team for the rest of the state, but they just don’t matchup well with what St. Pius does. Tae Thornton was most impressive. He was a little out of control at times, but the 6-foot-1 senior guard played very hard and his athleticism gave St. Pius trouble from time to time. DeUndra Singleton didn’t have the D1 performance I was hoping to see from him tonight, but the big fella is still definitely a college prospect that will be able to provide minutes at the next level. The pace of the game was not conducive to post play, but Singleton still managed 21 points and 5 rebounds. Not being able to play above the rim will hurt him at the next level, but he still is a load on the low block and uses his burly shoulders well. Ty Nails was quiet. The 6-foot-6 swingman didn’t handle St. Pius’ pressure very well and struggled to get going on offense. Jackson Bell brought a nice energy off the bench. His hustle shined more than his skill, but he did good things out there for Coach Bridges. Senior guard Brandon Wheeler was aggressive attacking the boards from his guard position and picked up a handful of steals.

Top Performers

St. Pius X
Brian Gonzalo – 15 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
Everett Lane – 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
Patrick Snipes – 9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
Troy Stephens – 9 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
Matt Gonzalo – 7 points, 6 assists, 3 steals
Niko Broadway – 5 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 1 block

Stephens County
DeUndra Singleton – 21 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal
Tae Thornton – 17 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
Ty Nails – 12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal

Sandy’s Spiel Super Sleepers (Update 1/6/15)

 

Class AAAAAA

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2015-16: Harrison: (7-7, 2-3)
2014-15: Harrison: (10-17, 4-10) 

The Hoyas have played well and are right in the thick of things in Region 4, battling for a top four seed heading into the region tournament. DJ Rowe was expected to be a big piece of the puzzle this year at the guard position, but he is no longer with the program. Juniors Juwan Owens and Tate Coston have played exceptionally well in his absence. In Tuesday’s 61-59 overtime win over North Cobb, Owens finished with 23 points. The heart and soul of the Hoyas however is senior forward Austin York. The big man has manufactured buckets inside and has shown touch from the perimeter. He posted 15 points and 11 rebounds in the win. The Hoyas have the bulk of their region schedule ahead including two meetings with No. 6 McEachern. Harrison should be in-line to capture a state playoff berth, but if they aren’t able to, expect them to play the role of spoiler down the stretch.

Class AAAAA

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2015-16: Houston County: (5-7, 0-1)
2014-15: Houston County: (10-16, 0-7)

Houston County has played a challenging non-region schedule to get ready for 2016. The Bears have seen 5-star forward Khavon Moore and Westside-Macon three times this season and took 1-of-3. A 55-50 overtime loss to 1A-Private No. 8 Whitefield Academy early in the season was a promising sign that the Bears have enough talent to stick with anyone. Their best win of the season came against 9-3 Dublin, 88-77. The Bears have a balanced attack which is spearheaded by DL Hall, Jaylon Golds and Amari Colbert. Kolbey Singleton, Marquis Traylor, Javion Johnson and Zion Johnson also get the lion’s share of minutes. In Region 2B, the Bears are stuck with No.10 Warner Robins, Jones County and Northside-Warner Robins. They will need to play good ball to get into the postseason, but they have more than enough talent to get the job done.

Class AAAA

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2015-16: Stephens County: (12-4, 1-0)
2014-15: Stephens County: (8-19, 3-7) 

At 12-4, the Indians are off to the best start of any Super Sleeper and have already surpassed last year’s win total. Stephens County won the Apple Classic in Walhalla, South Carolina and will enter region play with good momentum even after a 68-58 loss to Hart County. Nunu Walker, DeUndra Singleton and Ty Nails have played well for the young team that features just three seniors. Walker is a junior guard, while Singleton is a 6-foot-7, 240-pound sophomore and Nails a 6-foot-4 freshman. Stephens County’s best wins have come against 10-4 Madison County, 69-66 and 8-7 Jackson County, 50-46. Region 8 is wide open this year with Madison County, North Hall, White County, Buford and Monroe Area all contenders.

Class AAA

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2015-16: Pepperell: (8-5, 3-0)
2014-15: Pepperell: (11-15, 5-5) 

In teeny-tiny Region 5, the Dragons are emerging as a front-runner to capture a top two seed. In 5B, Rockmart (2-10) and Cedartown (3-7) don’t look like challengers. In 5A, lies No. 8 Callaway (5-3), Central-Carrollton (7-5) and Haralson County (0-14). Malech Wilson, Austin Strickland and Thomas Eddy have led the charge. Coach Skip Matherly sports eight seniors and six sophomores on their roster, giving them a blend of experience and youth. Currently the Dragons are on a six-game winning streak entering the heart of region play. Key tilts on Jan. 15 and Feb. 2 against Callaway will determine how legit Pepperell really is.

 Class AA

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2015-16: Social Circle: (6-8, 0-2)
2014-15: Social Circle: (8-14, 4-8) 

Only two teams, Riverside Military (6-5) and Washington-Wilkes (7-5), are above .500 in Region 8. The Redskins are in last place in the region at 0-2, but have plenty of time to catch the three leaders that sit at 2-1. Junior Deion Head continues to be one of the best players in the region. He is averaging 18.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 3.7 steals per game. One area for improvement in order to take his game to the next level would be his three-point shooting. He is an unfathomable 2-of-46 from beyond the arc, good for a miniscule 4%. The Redskins shoot just 21% from deep and will need to find some perimeter threats if they want to make the playoffs. Freshman Nick DeBoer is the team’s best shooter at 36% from three. He is averaging 9.4 points per game. Senior Zae Jackson adds 8.9 while sophomore Antonio Dorsey is posting 7.6 points and 8.0 rebounds on average. Senior Tommy Johnson leads the team in rebounding at 8.1 to go along with his 6.9 points per game.

Class A

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2015-16: Pinecrest Academy: (7-7, 1-4)
2014-15: Pinecrest Academy: (10-15, 4-8)

Balance has helped the Paladins get off to a steady start. Three players average double figures with two others scoring over 7 points per night. Seniors Zayne Rice and Adam Rocko have been consistent scorers. Rice averages 12.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals while Rocko goes for 10.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals. Junior John Crone pitches in 10.3 points per game. Seniors Santi Villar and Matt Howell both average over 7 a night. 1A-Private is wide open this season, but Region 6B looks too tight for the Paladins to bust into the playoffs. No. 2 St. Francis and No. 8 Whitefield Academy are among the seven teams ahead of the last-place Paladins in 6B.

Sandy’s Spiel Super Sleepers

There is no hiding it. My favorite time of year, basketball season, is finally here. To get ready for the season, I have narrowed down a few teams that I would classify as Super Sleepers. Not just sleepers, but teams that haven’t eclipsed the .500 mark in a few years and are finally ready to do so.

Class AAAAAA

allIn the most competitive classification in the state, the perennial powers remain the same, but Harrison (10-17, 4-10) may be in line to capture its first winning season since 2011-12 and fight for a playoff seed out of Region 4. Hillgrove has lost a ton via graduation and transfers from last year’s 23-6 team and are expected to take a step back while 21-8 McEachern could be the favorite to win the region. North Cobb and Kennesaw Mountain both made it as the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, but nothing is set in stone for 2015-16. Harrison proved last season that they can play with some tough competition, losing to 5A semifinalist Cedar Shoals 54-53, beating Hillgrove 51-41, beating McEachern 69-61 and losing to 4A runner-up Carrollton 54-47. Seniors Austin York and DJ Rowe give coach Clay Crump a nice one-two punch and solid leadership on the floor. Junior guard Tate Coston is also expected to make a big impact on the Hoyas. They will face some good tests throughout the season (Sequoyah, Berkmar, Houston County) and should be a tough out once region tournament play comes along.

Class AAAAA

1428092996_houston_county_bearsHouston County (10-16, 0-7) plays in the difficult Region 2B with the likes of No. 7 Warner Robins and No. 9 Jones County, but coach Stephen Walls has a nice group back that is in search of its first winning season in over five years. The Bears actually snuck into the playoffs after a winless regular season in region play and fell to LaGrange 60-41.Strong guard play will carry the Bears. Leading scorer junior Amari Colbert averaged 10 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game as a talented do-everything guard. Senior forward Javion Johnson is an elite leaper and chipped in 8 points and 8 rebounds a night last season. Jaylon Golds pitched in 10 points and 5 assists as a junior and brings quickness to the Bear backcourt. Marquis Traylor from Missouri brings over some size and athleticism inside. As a junior he averaged 7.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while showing off his hops, blocking 1.3 shots per game.

Class AAAA

imgresThough they haven’t enjoyed a winning record since 2012-13, Stephens County (8-19, 3-7) could find themselves playing meaningful basketball into the months of January and February. After a slow start to the season, the Indians under coach Chad Bridges began to play better and will try to carry that momentum over to 2015-16. Junior guard Nunu Walker is a talented scorer. Senior Tay Jones will play another big role along with sophomore Deandre Singleton, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound center. The Indians played Region 8 opponents hard, losing to Johnson-Gainesville (29-1) 54-46 in overtime and to Monroe Area (18-12) 47-45. With the graduation of some key pieces along the region, Region 8 should be a dog fight for the top four seeds.

Class AAA

imgresIt has been a while since Pepperell (11-15, 5-5) has been over .500, but that still didn’t stop the Dragons from making an appearance in the state tournament, sneaking in as a No. 4 seed. Coach Skip Matherly returns seniors Thomas Eddy, Austin Strickland and Rickey Campbell along with sophomore Malech Wilson, giving the Dragons some nice experience. They will need to replace high-scorer DeSean Ware, but Pepperell won’t be the only team in Region 5 losing talent. Rockmart and Callaway have lost some important players as well.

Class AA

homelogoSocial Circle (8-14, 4-8) has slowly begun to improve under head coach Ken Aldridge. He took over a 1-22 program after the 2012-13 season and improved to 3-23 before finishing 8-14 last season. The Redskins narrowly missed out on a playoff berth, but proved they could play with the competition. No. 3 seed Union County (17-12, 8-4) struggled with the up and coming Skins, actually splitting the series with Social Circle taking game one 49-48, before the Panthers won game two 68-67. Junior guard Deion Head is a big time player and averaged 16.8 points and 5.3 assists last year.

Class A

Trapped in thelarge_text158141_80739 devastatingly tough Region 6, Pinecrest Academy (10-15, 4-8) still stands a chance of reaching the elusive .500 mark. Ryan McCarthy and John Crone are a duo of highly experienced juniors that give coach Jay Lynch solid options. The playoffs aren’t likely in the cards, but expect the Paladins to be very competitive.