By R. Alan Richardson
On a night when the ultra-talented Morgan County Bulldogs didn’t play their best game of the season, it was senior guard Tyrin Lawrence who paced the Dogs to the victory. His 30 points were almost half of Morgan’s winning total of 62-52 to advance to the Final Four. Coach Jamond Sims has now taken his teams to five straight Final Four’s in his five-year stint as the Head Coach. It’s been an amazing run of skill, talent, heart, and coaching that most programs would die to have on their resume.
This time it was the Tattnall County Warriors that felt the playoff bite of the Dogs, but they were in no way intimidated by the past history of Morgan County. They came into a hostile environment with a packed house (bigger than the GAC game) and showed that that were up to the task. Tattnall rode a wave of three-pointers throughout the night to keep things close while the Dogs couldn’t buy a bucket from beyond the arc. In fact, a team that had been shooting over 40% from distance on the year did not make a single three in the game.
Early on it seemed as if the Dogs were going to run away in this one. They seemed the more talented team. The long-range shooting of the Warriors kept them close with two three-pointers in the first quarter. Morgan led 12-8 after the first eight minutes, but had missed some easy opportunities that could have widened the gap early and given them some breathing room. The Warriors roared out to a 17-15 lead early in the second quarter before the Dogs went on an eight-point spurt with 2:44 to regain a 23-17 advantage. Tattnall closed out the half at 25-21 and it was close the remainder of the way.
Lawrence was hot from the opening tip scoring seven of the first quarter points and 13 in the opening half. Another Achilles heel for the Dogs was at the free throw line where they went 4-11 up to intermission. One positive for MOCO in the half and throughout the night was the ability of the Dogs to limit Tattnall to one shot with good defense and strong rebounding.
The second half didn’t start out like Sims would have liked. Back-to-back three-pointers and a barrage of inside shots gave Tattnall a 33-32 lead with 4:35 in the third period. A minute later the lead went up to five at 37-32 before Sims called timeout at the 3:33 mark to settle his team. With the momentum in the visitors’ favor and a good crowd that traveled with them from Reidsville, the Dogs looked to be in a bit of trouble. Whatever Sims said and with the experience of this senior-led team, they never flinched.
The Dogs reeled off eight straight points after the timeout on two big inside plays by Malik Crawford and driving shots by Stevin Greene and Alec Woodard. AJ Brown followed that up with a nice move in the paint and Lawrence knocked down three free throws to end the quarter. However, the hot outside shooting of Tattnall still had them within only a point 45-44 going into the final period.
The Dogs asserted themselves in the last stanza scoring the first nine points out of the gate. Lawrence had seven of those (one was an old-fashioned three-point play) while Brown added the other two. With 4:06 remaining in the contest, the Dogs were up 10 at 54-44, but it wasn’t over. Not just yet.
Lawrence got a thunder dunk late in the game from the baseline that brought the fans to their feet to give Morgan the 58-47 lead, but the Warriors gave it one last gasp. It was a little too late. With 29.4 seconds left, they hit a layup to cut the lead to six at 58-52 before Woodard made both ends of a one-and-one and Lawrence made the front end to finalize the score at 62-52.