Contributed by Rob Grubbs (@RCGJr226070)
No. 4 Tri-Cities 59, Mays 53
— Robert Grubbs (@RCGJr226070) January 10, 2018
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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