The 2017-18 version of Morgan County basketball is off to a colorful start after winning the ‘plaid’ bracket of Dacula High School’s first annual Craig Sager Memorial Basketball Tournament. With the tournament victory and another over Westlake this past Friday, the Dogs now hold the number one ranking in the state for class AAA at 4-0 on the young season and for good reason.
Jamond Sims’ team has been the cardiac kids to this point with their largest margin of victory coming in the 67-61 defeat of Westlake. The three tournament games saw two of them end in overtime with another in the championship game against Buford by only three points. The Bulldogs defeated top 10 ranked teams at Dacula in each game. Therrell was ranked ninth in AA while Dacula was number two in AAAAAA and Buford was also ranked number two in AAAAA. It’s too early to make predictions, but at this point in the season many would put the odds in Morgan’s favor to reach the finals again for the fifth straight time.
There are several good reasons for the positivity surrounding the program. Returning for the Dogs are leading scorers Alec Woodard and Tyrin Lawrence along with point guard Stevin Green and power forward Anthony Cooper. Those first three names are juniors while Cooper joins Yusuf Baig as seniors who played quality minutes a year ago. The team has quickness, scoring ability, coaching, and depth. Sims can go 10-12 deep without much drop-off in talent. It should be an interesting year.
The scoring for Morgan was a little more balanced on Tuesday, but Woodard again carried the load scoring 27 of the Dogs’ 67 in the 67-65 OT win. MOCO came out of the gates strong to take a 36-22 halftime lead but the Falcons took it to the Dogs in the third period outscoring Morgan 23-11 to cut the lead to two. It was a battle of two good teams for the next 12 minutes before MOCO got the victory. Other scoring came from Lawrence with 17, Cooper 10, Green 6, Jordan Huff 2, and KJ Wyatt 4. Two of Wyatt’s points were big free throws in the extra period. Woodard scored the other six in OT.
The Championship Game vs. highly ranked Buford was another nail biter with numerous lead changes and ties throughout the evening. Coach Eddie Martin is one of the most successful coaches in Georgia with successful stints at Parkview, Norcros, Greater Atlanta Christian, and now Buford. He always puts a quality product on the floor and this year’s team is no different. At least two of his players have signed mid-major scholarships with another junior being recruited at the highest NCAA level as a junior.
The Dogs came out in a 2-3 zone, but that didn’t last long. The Wolves hit five three-point bombs in the first quarter but only led 19-15. Sims went man-to-man after that and Buford only hit one more three the remainder of the game. Morgan trailed by two at the intermission 28-26, but Woodard had been shackled with three fouls and would play sparingly in the second half. Cooper went on an offensive tear scoring eight in the second period to keep the Dogs close. In the third quarter Baig took two huge back-to-back charges in the period to give his team a lift and Woodard made an old-fashioned three-point play at the buzzer. Going into the final period Morgan led 43-39.
The fourth period began with the Wolves cutting the lead to 46-45 with 5:35 remaining. A Sims timeout was followed with a slashing bucket by Green and three-pointer by Lawrence gave Morgan a six point 51-45 advantage. The next three minutes saw a flurry of action with Morgan going stone cold and Buford tying things up at 51-all with five-of-five shooting from the free throw line. Buford took a terrible shot that was rebounded by the Dogs with 1:41 left. On a side out of bounds possession, Morgan took a shot that was off the mark. Two hustle plays on offensive rebounds by Green and Lawrence ended in a go-ahead basket with 1:25. This was followed by a Buford turnover and a dunk by Lawrence to give Morgan a 55-51 lead that didn’t last long. Buford immediately hit a three-pointer with 34.5 remaining and Green was fouled with 17.7 ticks on the clock. He calmly made both free throws for the 57-54 score. With one last gasp left for the Wolves Morgan put on a team defensive clinic with Buford only managing a wild last second three that wasn’t even close. Lawrence and Woodard were named all-tournament for their efforts. Woodard talked about the tournament, “The tournament was good for us because we were able to compete with some of the best basketball programs in the state. We still have some work to do, but as a team it was great!” Running mate, Lawrence said, “The tournament at Dacula was filled with competition. All of our games were close and I think we showed our growth from last season. Last year we probably would have gave up the lead late in the game, but this year we were able to maintain the lead and get the wins.”
When asked if he could make the games any closer, Sims said, “We’ve just been able to make one more good play than bad. I’m just glad these guys are battle tested.”
Morgan defeated Westlake Friday with 20 points from Lawrence, 19 from Woodard, and 15 by Cooper. Green talked about the latest win saying, “We were down 12 in the second quarter, but we came back within two points in two minutes. I was able to contribute during that time by getting some steals, assists, setting up Coop for easy baskets and snatching rebounds over some of their taller guys.” Teammate Cooper commented, “We played good this weekend, but there is room to improve. I’ve noticed how we have matured and come together as a unit and have realized how we need to keep this program at the top.” Woodard said, “Friday’s game went very well. We all stepped up and did what was needed. We played solid defense and executed well. We are still working hard and setting our team goals toward the ship (championship).”
Up next for Morgan will be their first home games of the year Friday, Dec. 1. JV games tip off at 4:00 p.m. and varsity at 7:00 p.m. against Cedar Shoals. The Jaguar boys are ranked number three in class AAAAA.