After checking off their first goal of going undefeated in Region play, the Bulldogs put a second checkmark by another by winning the 2017-18 Region Tournament Championship Saturday night over a very game Hart County in double overtime at Emmanuel College
This one was anything but easy. In fact, it was in doubt until the final buzzer sounded after 40 minutes of basketball in a game that saw the Bulldogs trail for much of the contest. As has been par for the course over the past several games, Morgan jumped out in front early 9-2. The Bulldogs in orange wanted this one badly. Trying to dethrone the six-time consecutive Region Champions, it was raining three’s and going Hart’s way the remainder of the first quarter. They hit three of them before the horn sounded to take a 17-14 advantage after one quarter of play. Hart’s Jalen Brown hit two three’s in the opening period on his way to a 26-point performance. Tyrin Lawrence came out gunning in the first scoring six of Morgan’s points on his way to a 31 point outing to lead all scorers. Quin Williams gave the Dogs an inside presence they hadn’t seen in some time scoring and making some nice post feeds to teammates throughout the night.
Alec Woodard scored six unanswered points to start the second stanza to regain a 20-17 lead, but it wouldn’t last long. Hart hit another three to tie things up and it was back-and-forth lead exchanges until the break showed a score of 28-28. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that Morgan was the decided favorite in this one. Their opponent had almost handed them a loss in Hartwell just a few weeks ago with MOCO having to come back from a 10-point halftime deficit. Hart believed they were the better team and played like it for most of the night.
The second half and beyond were edge-of-your-seat basketball. Hart shot lights out in the game and showed no signs of slowing down as the second half resumed. Hart opened the third quarter and ended it with 7-0 runs while Morgan had one of its own to tie things up. Trailing 35-30, Lawrence put on an offensive clinic scoring 14 in the period and tied the game twice with three-pointers. His near four-point play at 3:42 tied the game at 37-all as did his three-pointer with 10 seconds remaining at 44-44. The lanky lefty put the team on his back and carried them throughout the game.
In the final quarter of regulation with Morgan trailing 54-51 Lawrence made two big free throws to close the gap to one before Hart hit two of two of their own. Again, it was #2 to the rescue hitting a huge three to tie things up with 1:57 left to play. After free throws by Hart put them up by two, Woodard made a driving bucket. It was knotted at 58-58.
Sometimes the biggest plays of the game don’t even show up in the box score. With 1:13 remaining and Hart with the ball Williams drew a charge that changed the complexion of the game. Morgan opted to hold the ball for the last shot. Coach Jamond Sims called timeout with 6.1 seconds on the clock to draw up a play. He used Lawrence as a decoy to get the ball to Region Player-of-the-Year Woodard whose shot fell off to the right of the basket and it was one to extra basketball Part I.
The first overtime was similar to the fourth quarter with the teams jockeying for position and the score tied at 62-62. The Dogs again went for the last shot, but again it was off-center. Part II was much more intense with five lead changes. Morgan took the lead at 69-67 after Woodard made one of his free throw attempts, but Morgan fouled to give Hart a chance to tie things up. The shooter missed the second of two shots at the stripe that would have tied things up. That’s when Williams stepped up big again for his team. He made one of his two free throw attempts to give the Dogs a two-point lead with 6.1 seconds. It was plenty of time for Hart’s lightening quick Brown to go the length of the floor. However, he was out of control and Williams stepped in to take another huge charge to make the play-of-the-game. Woodard hit a late free throw for the final score of 71-68 to get the title. It was a fitting way for the Dogs to win their eighth straight Region Championship.
In the semi-finals Morgan handed East Jackson a 58-46 loss to advance to the finals. Woodard led Morgan with 18 points.
The Dogs will now face off with the number four seed from Region 7-AAA North Hall. They will come to Morgan on the 17th (it is believed) to play the first round of the State Tournament. The Trojans posted a 10-17 regular season mark and finished 4-8 in Region play.