By R. Alan Richardson
A packed house. A sea of red and black. A heavyweight fight. A raucous crowd. Two heavyweight contenders. Ali vs. Foreman. The “Thrilla in Manilla.” Number 1 vs. number 2. What else could you ask for? It was an epic rematch between the top two teams in the State. Not this time baby! The Dogs never trailed in this one to avenge that bitter loss from 2018 by defeating GAC 67-54. It was more than SWEET!
After taking an early 5-0 lead, the Morgan County Bulldogs threw an uppercut against an opponent that has been a thorn in the side of basketball and sports fans over the past several years. It was a more than sweet victory to avenge a Final Four loss to these same Spartans a year ago. Coach Jamond Sims was asked if it was one of the best of his career. He said, “Other than the State Championship win in Alec’s (Woodard) freshman year, I would think it’s right up there with the best. I told the guys before the game that it had been 355 days since they beat us in overtime 73-71 last year. We went out and played one of the most complete games we’ve played all year.” He smiled and added, “Oh, yeah, it was sweet.”
Riding the broad shoulders of Morgan’s senior class, the Dogs jumped out to a six-point 10-4 lead and held that lead through the first eight minutes. The first quarter ended 14-8. Stevin Greene led off where he ended last year’s matchup by slashing to the bucket for a layup to get things started. Tyrin Lawrence hit a three and followed that up a few minutes later with an old-fashioned three while Woodard hit a bucket and two free throws. Nolan Causwell played one of his best games of the season and ended the quarter with a score.
Woodard put up eight of his 15 points in the second stanza, and Lawrence hit a driving full-court layup to end the half with the Dogs in the driver’s seat 31-23. It was then all MOCO after the intermission with Malik Crawford going off inside and scoring six of his 10 total points during the third period. Morgan ran out to a sixteen-point advantage at 41-25 before GAC closed the gap to ten to start the fourth 43-33.
With the fans and one old sportswriter imploring and begging the Dogs to hunker down one more time, they did just that. The defense was outstanding, the team play and passing was some of the best we’ve seen these guys produce, and the fans were loving every minute of it. Causwell had a pivotal moment in the fourth with Morgan leading by eleven 44-33. The big guy hit both free throws in a one-and-one free throw situation and came back down to score another bucket. A free throw by Lawrence and another basket by the lefty put the Dogs up 17 with 6:28 to play. You could feel the momentum in the Dogs’ favor at that point. After GAC hit a long three-pointer, Crawford scored again and AJ Brown made a nice shot in the paint to give Morgan some breathing room. After GAC hit another three from long range, they called timeout. Lawrence made a huge block that looked like a sure layup when he pinned one against the backboard, but the Spartans continued to battle. They scored five straight to cut the lead down to eight at 54-46, but that was all they could muster.
Over the final 2:22 the Bulldogs hit 7 of 10 free throws and Greene got four more points to make it 67-48. The final of 67-54 only came when Morgan was allowing GAC to shoot freely and not foul. They scored seven of their final tally in the final 50 seconds.
Overall it was about as good an effort as Sims and the coaching staff could have hoped for. Sims made these observations about the big win. “Our defense was locked in. Their coach told me after the game that the game film he saw of us was nothing like what they saw in the first five minutes of this one. When the guys really want to play defense, they can be dominant. I thought the effort of our inside guys Malik, Nolan, and Trent was outstanding. It was good to see those guys who don’t normally get the publicity of our guards play like that. They made a huge difference. It was an all-around effort. At this point, everybody wants to win so badly and contribute so badly that they are just itching and waiting for their name to be called and be a part of it.”
One noteworthy item is that Region 8-AAA now has three boys’ teams remaining in the playoffs. Franklin County (an at-large bid) and Hart County are still alive. Just tells you a little about how good our Region is this season.
Now it’s time for the Dogs to face off with Tattnall County, a top 10 team in AAA not to be taken lightly. At this point, no one should be. The Warriors come to Morgan County on Tuesday this week at 5:30 with a 21-8 record to face off with the Bulldogs in the Elite Eight. Tattnall got to this point by defeating Groves High School 77-72 in the first round and Worth County 72-58 last week.