Dogs Battle AAAAA Power Cedar Shoals in Finals

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By R. Alan Richardson

sports editor

The first round for the boys against Butler High School was nothing like the girls’ game.  It was a back-and-forth struggle the entire night with Morgan willing themselves to a 73-70 overtime victory. 

Both teams started the match playing tough man-to-man half-court defense.  The Dogs jumped out to an early 6-0 lead that would turn out to be their biggest advantage of the night.  Butler roared back with their full-court pressure and the game was on.  It was 12-12 after the first period of play with sophomore Tyrin Lawrence helping the Dogs’ cause offensively along with Anthony Cooper.

MOCO’s anemic shooting from the field and turnovers against the press helped Butler’s Bulldogs gain an eight point lead at halftime.  Butler ended the half on an 8-2 run to take the 29-21 advantage.  Signs of things to come were seen in that period as Alec Woodard was cranking up offensively and the Dogs were relentless on the boards on several possessions.

Morgan dominated the first 5:30 minutes of the second half outscoring their opponent 14-6 to tie things up at 35-35 with 2:34 remaining.  They then went on another five-point run to take a 40-35 lead before the smoke cleared to end the third quarter at 43-40 Morgan.  The Dogs’ defense was stifling at times as they drew three charges, had numerous steals, and blocked several shots during the run.  Seven different players scored for Morgan.

The fourth quarter was a doozy with both squads putting it all on the floor for their teammates.  Butler pulled with one on two free throws to start things off, but the Dogs answered with a six-point run of their own to lead 49-44.  There were several lead changes in the waning minutes with Butler going up one 50-49 after an offensive spurt. 

With the score at 58-55, Butler made a deep corner three-pointer to tie things up with 17.9 seconds remaining.  Woodard was the man of the hour as he made two free throws with: 5.1 seconds remaining in regulation.  The following play saw Butler inbound the ball and drive the length of the floor before the officials recognized that the clock didn’t start when it should have.  Butler was given possession in front of their bench with 3.2 seconds left.

You could see it coming.  Morgan went man up on defense and the Butler’s inbounder lobbed a pass into the post that the big man grabbed and put in to tie the game.  He was fouled on the play and had an opportunity to get the free throw and the win.  Angels were smiling on the Dogs as he missed it so here comes some extra basketball.

Overtime was a battle of two teams that did not want to lose this one.  Woodard asserted himself by scoring the first five points of the period. Butler would not give in taking the 68-67 lead before the Dogs’ Tyrin Lawrence and Woodard scored four of their own for a three-point lead.  Butler scored again with 4.6 seconds and then fouled the one player they shouldn’t have.  That was Woodard.  He promptly made both with 3.5 seconds and Butler turned it over to end any chance they might have had at a miracle.  This was a great game played by two hungry teams and was fun to watch.

Arabia Mountain was next up for the boys in the second round.  A win here would propel Morgan into the finals against Cedar Shoals who had won earlier in the day.  The final score of 67-57 does not indicate how easily the Dogs won this one.  After Morgan took a 22 point lead in the fourth quarter, the Ram starters went on a 15-3 run against the Morgan second unit.

You could tell early on that this was going to be a wild one.  The officials were letting them play, but before the night was over the game almost got out of hand.  Let’s just say it was very physical.

The teams looked like bookends with similar styles of play.  Both wanted to get out in transition and employed multiple half-court and full-court pressure defenses throughout the evening.

The first quarter was a draw with the Dogs taking first blood and the Rams answering back to the tune of a 12-12 tie after one.  Damarian Thomas and Anthony Cooper scored late buckets to keep the Dogs on track.

Latrabius Stokes came out in the second quarter with two quick scores as MOCO went on a 9-0 run and the 21-12 advantage.  Arabia Mountain didn’t score until the 2:18 mark when they knocked down a three and only scored five in the quarter to Morgan’s 13.  The Dogs played some aggressive and stingy defense for the remainder of the game.  The score was 25-17 at halftime with Lawrence accounting for seven in the quarter.

Coach Jamond Sims made an adjustment late in the first half that may have been the difference in the game.  He went to the 2-3 zone and continued to use it exclusively after halftime.  The Rams had a hard time solving the zone as the Dogs continued to stretch the lead going up by 16 after three quarters of play.  It was a team effort with the swarming zone and seven different players putting points on the board for Morgan.

The Dogs pushed the lead to 22 in the last period of play before substituting.  Arabia Mountain was atrocious at the line hitting on only 8 of 18 in the fourth quarter that could have helped their cause.  Meanwhile Morgan hit 8-13 in a fourth quarter free throw contest.

It’s now on to the championship game vs. Cedar Shoals in round three of the Sweet South Christmas Classic.  Cedar won the tournament a year ago when they defeated Morgan County in a close one.  These two teams have met earlier this season with the Jaguars getting the 10 point victory over Morgan.  Cedar is 13-2 overall and 3-1 in region play behind 3-0 Buford.  The rematch proved to be another good one with the Jaguars again prevailing 57-48.

The highlight of this one was the show that Stevin Greene put on in the first half of play.  The little guy went to work pouring in 17 of his 19 points during the first 16 minutes of play.  He even had the Cedar Shoals fans applauding his performance as they recognized great basketball play by the smallest man on the court.  Greene was hitting three’s, floaters, mid-range jumpers, and finishes at the rim.  It was fun to watch as he carried the boys by scoring half of their points.  He then topped it off with a deep three-pointer as the first-half buzzer sounded.  He was out of his mind.

Morgan led in the first quarter by 11 before two consecutive three-pointers by Cedar Shoals to end the period gave the Dogs a slim 20-15 margin.  Both teams played some tight defense in the second quarter with the three-ball accounting for most of the scoring before the half.  It was raining threes by both teams, but MOCO still held a slim 33-31 advantage going into the break.

It looked like Greene was going to continue his circus act into the second half as he scored the first two for Morgan.  After that he was targeted and shut down the rest of the way.  With Morgan leading by four, the Jaguars put 10 on the board to grab a 41-35 lead that they would never relinquish on their way to a second straight Sweet South Classic Championship.

In the final period Morgan closed to within one before Cedar Shoals again asserted themselves to preserve the 57-48 win.

Tyrin Lawrence and Alec Woodard were named to the all-tournament team.  These two super sophomores played high-level, consistent basketball throughout the tournament and will have (do have) college coaches clamoring for their services for the next two years.  Congratulations to the Dogs on a great effort as they continue to show improvement going into January and the Region 8-AAA schedule.

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