MPS schools shut out on first day of Central Regional
By Tim Gayle
Thursday wasn’t a very good day for MPS programs as all four teams in action ended their seasons abruptly.
No other school system in the state took a beating the way the Montgomery County school system did, although there is a chance of redemption with the boys and girls teams from Carver and Sidney Lanier in action on Friday.
It turned out a last-minute loss by Jeff Davis to the Central-Phenix City boys was the best news of the day. As heart breaking as it was, it turned out to be the most competitive game. The Lee boys lost by 17 points; the Lee girls by 21; and the Jeff Davis girls by 28. Only a 77-37 loss by the Tuscaloosa County High girls to Sparkman was by a wider margin of defeat in a Class 7A regional.
The Auburn boys had perhaps the biggest win among the Area 4 quartet that swept the Montgomery schools. Their lopsided 57-40 smashing of Lee – which entered the game as the top-ranked team in 7A if the rankings are considered any type of gauge – presented the Tigers with their first region victory since the 2005 championship season, snapping a string of six consecutive region losses.
“Robert E. Lee has put us out the last two years,” Auburn assistant coach Chris Brandt said. “Last year, we actually had a five-point lead with 45 seconds left so it was good to have a little bigger cushion this time around.”
The Generals (28-4), which entered the game with aspirations of a state championship, never looked the part. Although their defense was top notch early, Lee hit just 3 of 21 3-pointers in the game and never adjusted its perimeter attack even when it was clearly evident the Generals needed another offensive method of attack.
Lee got its attack going early and appeared on the verge of cruising to another victory. Up by seven points midway through the second quarter, the Generals’ train went off the tracks as an Antoine Pitts’ 3-pointer from the corner gave Auburn a 24-21 lead heading into the locker room at the half.
“I thought we shot too many 3’s when we had that lead,” Lee coach Bryant Johnson said. “I felt like we should have been going to the basket and trying to get something easy. They came down and opened it up by hitting some 3’s right before the half.”
In the second half, the game spiraled out of control as the Generals continued to struggle from the field. A team that shot 32 percent from the field in the first half didn’t improve much in the third quarter. And as the Generals continued to struggle offensively, their defense started falling apart as well.
“They’re known for their defense, their press, a lot of trapping, running, jumping and transition basketball,” Brandt said. “We were trying to make it a half-court game. Compared to the last two years, where we were just throwing it away carelessly, this year we did a better job…of dealing with traps.”
Auburn overcame their poor-shooting first quarter, which at their worst was better than Lee at its best, by hitting 56 percent of their shots in the final three quarters.
“I felt like there was a different energy coming into this game,” said Auburn’s Christian Brandt, who led all scorers with 19 points. “You just feel in the locker room before the game that we were not going to get beat. Everybody was on the same page. We were able to talk on the floor and communicate. At the beginning, it was a little rough but once we felt out that traps and presses, we knew what passes were going to be open. We were just easily breaking it.”
Lee shot 24.5 percent from the field for the game. Jondatric Butler led the Generals with 10 points, but hit just 2 of 16 shots from the field. Henry Ruggs and his younger brother Kevontae made the most field goals (3) on the team and Kevontae reached that mark with a meaningless lay-in at the buzzer. Both players finished with eight points.
“I thought about it throughout the first half I should have subbed more and rest some of our (starting) guys and maybe somebody could have given us a spark,” Johnson said. “The ball just didn’t bounce our way tonight.
“I’m not going to go into detail about how I really feel, but I kind of felt like we just didn’t get into any rhythm.”
Central-Phenix City 75, Robert E. Lee 54 (girls)
Like the boys, the Lee girls hung around for a half, trailing 31-27, before mysteriously disappearing in a second-half rout.
“We had talked about the same things they (Lee players) were doing,” Wright said. “I don’t usually use the timeout that early, but I had to get their attention. I think it worked. When we got into the locker room at halftime, I told 14 (Tiyah Johnson) and her sister, 10 (Teyah Johnson), that they were not doing their job on the backside rebound and did I need to take them out?”
The sisters combined for 54 points offensively, but perhaps just as important were their 16 rebounds as the seniors heeded their coach’s advice to swing the momentum to the Lady Red Devils (25-4).
“We were boxing out, getting backside rebounds, playing defense,” Tiyah Johnson said.
Zipporah Broughton led the Generals with 26 points but there wasn’t enough defensive support to keep Central from pulling away in the second half.
“All year, we’ve been playing with a bunch of young girls, three 10th graders and two freshmen,” Lee coach Freeah Smith said. “Tonight kind of looked like how they played at the beginning of the year. I don’t know if the stage was too big for them but we made a lot of mistakes on defense that we haven’t made in the second half of the season.”
The Central victory set up a rematch with Area 4 foe Auburn for the region championship.
“We love each other and we hate each other on the court,” Wright said. “We’ve battled each other three times this year. I’ve come up with two wins, they’ve come up with one. The best team that shows up to play that day with the right mindset to do the little things to finish will be the team that wins it.”
Central-Phenix City 55, Jeff Davis 52 (Boys)
A pair of baskets by Demarkus Lampley early in the fourth quarter put Central on top and from there the Red Devils were able to hold off the Volunteers in an evenly-matched game to advance to the region finals against area rival Auburn.
Jeff Davis (21-11) seemed in control for most of the game but once Central (24-3) grabbed the lead, the Red Devils were able to make enough crucial baskets down the stretch to hold off the Vols.
“I thought we extended the floor defensively,” Central coach Bobby Wright said. “Instead of them setting the tempo, which they had done pretty much the entire game, we start pressing them and that took them out of some of that tempo. It swung our way then. They were tired, just like us, and they started making some mental errors and we capitalized on them.”
Jeff Davis would tie the game once more on a three-point play by Tyler Wesley with 5:02 remaining, but could never get closer than one point on a pair of occasions.
“You’ve got to give Central-Phenix City a lot of credit,” Jeff Davis coach Terry Posey said. “They’re a class program. We had our opportunities and that’s what we strived to do, play defense well enough to give ourselves a chance. And we had chances. Sometimes, that ball just won’t go it.”
The Vols missed four layups in the fourth quarter, a problem that persisted throughout the game.
“I think I went to see my son play back in the seventh or eighth grade where they missed a lot of layups, but not at this level,” Posey said. “We had our chances. The guys worked real hard to get those looks. I guess there was a lid over it. I am proud of our guys. They did exactly what we asked them to do.”
A 3-pointer by Adonas Murrell pulled Jeff Davis within 53-52 with 4.6 seconds left, but 2.5 seconds ran off the clock despite an immediate foul of Lampley on the in-bounds play.
“I did ask the question,” Posey said. “He gave me some excuse, then said, ‘I’m sorry Coach, that’s all I can tell you.’ There was nothing else I could say then. But officiating didn’t beat us.”
Lampley sank both free throws and Wesley’s half-court heave at the buzzer was off the mark, ending the season for the Vols.
Auburn jumped on the two-time defending state champion with a 25-5 lead in the first quarter and never looked back, cruising to the second most lopsided victory among all 7A teams in action on Thursday.
Nautika Philpot had 17 points and Shanlya Holley and Alexis Tate each had 14 to lead Auburn (22-8), which finished the game with 16 steals. Jasmine Payne had six points to lead Jeff Davis (6-21), which had 30 turnovers in the game but was fortunate just to make the regional with two sophomores and six freshmen on their eight-player roster.