Monday, March 3, 2008

Elite 8 Wrapup from Marietta High School

I had the pleasure of taking in the Elite 8 games from Marietta High School last Saturday. And got to see some great basketball. The day had it all: great games, individual performances, loud crowds, and a lot more. Clearly, High school Basketball is better than ever in the state. Here’s some of what I got to see.

Game 1: Clarke Central vs. Southwest Dekalb

When it comes to intensity, this was one of the best games I’ve seen all season. CC were lead by an unreal performance from point guard Brittni Johnson. She kept her team close all game against an SWD team that was clearly the more talented. But in the end, it was too much Charenee Stephens in the post and the Lady Panthers were victorious by a score of 74-63.

Johnson’s first half performance was unbelievable. She dropped 17 in the first 16 minutes to lead her team to a 31-29 lead at the break. She also was helping out her team with plenty of steals in CC’s full-court press, and finding open teammates for plenty of dimes.

But the upset wasn’t meant to be in an intense and physical second half. Both teams were in the bonus with plenty of time to play and the game turned into somewhat of a war from the charity stripe. But Stephens made free throws irrelevant by taking over in crunch time. She got CC’s frontline in foul trouble all on her own and dominated on the offensive glass. Two of her fourth-quarter-putbacks also coincided with fouls, including a three-point play with 2:15 to play that sealed the deal.

Her performance was truly heroic. She scored 13-points in a second half where she never came out of the game, and she never showed any signs of wearing a down. Without her, the result probably would have been different, she finished with 21 points and 15 boards.

Game 2: Miller Grove vs. Lithia Springs

Again, this was a game where the underdog gave the favorite a lot of problems. But just like in the first game, the favorite (Miller Grove) made the plays down the stretch. They escaped with a narrow 62-58 win.

It was a close game throughout and turned into a back-and-forth affair down the stretch. Lithia Springs’ Chris Nelson hit a huge three-pointer to tie it up at 55 with just under three minutes to go. But Mfon Udofia, who struggled with his shot all game long, got to the foul line and hit both to put the Wolverines up 57-55. Lithia Springs didn’t look threatening on the next possessions and turned it over soon after. But Miller Grove turned it right back over, only for LS to miss a seemingly easy shot in the paint that would have tied the game. Then they allowed MGHS to get the ball back to Udofia (a great free throw shooter) and he coolly sank both to seemingly finish of Lithia.

But once again, The Lions got back in it. Devoron Ashmon drove the lane, got fouled, and made the bucket. After he sank his free throw it was a one-point game. But once again, Udofia got the ball and sank two FT’s with 15 seconds to go. Down 61-58, the Lions needed a three-pointer to force OT, but they mistakenly settled for a mid-range jumper which clanked off the back-iron. Justin Allen pulled down the rebound for MG, and sank his second foul shot to ice the game.

Game 3: Mays vs. Madison County

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about either of these teams before the game. But both of them came to play in one half each. Mays dominated the first two quarters, but Madison County played a nearly flawless second half en route to a 67-57 victory.

Mays scored the first 17 points of the game. That’s right, it was 17-0 in favor of the 6-AAAA side. They held a 32-23 lead at half. But Madison stormed back in the third quarter, took the lead, and never looked back.

The final score was 67-57, as the Red Raiders outscored Mays 35-15 in the second half. The margin of victory could have been more, but Madison turned the ball over a myriad of times down the stretch with the game essentially out of reach.

Game 4 Rome vs. Columbia

This was supposed to be the game of the evening. The high profile matchup of Rome’s Tony Woods (Wake Forest commit) and Darius Morrow (South Carolina commit) was supposed to be epic. And maybe, just maybe, the Wolves were going to upset the AAAA giants. That didn’t happen. Eagles' mega-recruit Travis Leslie (still undecided) played one of his best games of the season, and it was never close.

It was 22-9 after one quarter. Leslie scored 12 of those, including a late steal and layup that gave the Eagles great momentum. Rome turned it up on the offensive end in the second quarter, but they couldn’t stop Leslie. After two Woods dunks made it 31-19 and the Eagles turned it over, he went to work alongside some great guard play from Jershon Cobb (who doesn’t get enough publicity because of Morrow and Leslie). Although Woods outplayed Morrow in the first half, the Columbia backcourt dominated Rome’s. It was 39-24 at the half.

The second half was more of the same. Woods tried to keep his team close and the Rome guards were better offensively. But they couldn’t stop the Eagles’ offense. Leslie finished with 30 points, and the final score of 69-51 could have been much worse if CHS had been a little more consistent.