Big step for Grangers
Published 12:29 am Friday, February 24, 2017
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – It was still anybody’s game.
In the fourth quarter of Thursday’s state-tournament showdown, the LaGrange Grangers were hanging onto a six-point lead against an outstanding Richmond Academy team.
With more than two minutes to play against a team the caliber of Richmond Hill, the outcome was far from a sure thing.
The Grangers were about to put the game to bed, though, and they did it in high-flying fashion.
With 2:10 to play, Bo Russell got a break-away, fast-break dunk to give the Grangers an eight-point cushion.
On Richmond Academy’s next possession, LaGrange’s Bryan Fanning had a blocked shot, and that led to a Kenan Gray dunk on the other end, and the lead was 10.
The Grangers didn’t look back.
The Grangers (26-3) were up by at least eight points the rest of the way, and when the clock struck zero, they celebrated an 85-73 victory.
LaGrange’s phenomenal senior guard, LaPerion Perry, dominated Richmond Academy and scored 32 points, and Fanning added 13 points.
Gabe Duckett had 12 key points, and Russell and Gray scored nine apiece.
The win propelled the Grangers into the quarterfinals of the Class AAAA state tournament.
LaGrange’s opponent will be Henry County, and those teams will meet on Wednesday, and the location will be determined by a coin flip since they’re both number one seeds.
The winner of that game will advance to the final four in Augusta.
Thursday’s game was a challenging one.
Richmond Academy (24-6), which was upset in the finals of its region tournament, was one of the most highly-regarded Class AAAA teams in the state.
“According to some of the ranking stuff you look at, they’re ranked number two in the state of Georgia,” LaGrange head coach Mark Veal said. “I could tell watching film how good they were.”
The Grangers were the better team, though, particularly late in the game when it was decision time.
It was a two-point game with a little more than five minutes to play, but LaGrange scored 22 points in the final five minutes to put it away.
The Grangers were at their best when they pushed the pace, which was what led to the back-to-back dunks by Russell and Gray during the decisive stretch in the fourth quarter.
“I felt like we needed to speed the game up,” Perry said. “They have people that can run, but not like us. We sped it up, and they couldn’t stick with us.”
The Musketeers certainly couldn’t stick with Perry, who made three 3-pointers, was 7-of-7 from the free-throw line, and made some acrobatic shots at the rim while having defenders draped over him.
The Musketeers have some big-time players of their own.
Dantavian Stephens, a junior guard, made four 3-pointers and scored 29 points, and senior post player Moses Williams had 21 points, and he had 13 of those points in the fourth quarter as his teammates continually fed him the ball.
“A lot of teams we play have an inside presence, or an outside presence,” Veal said. “But tonight, we saw both, and they were hard to defend. And some stuff they do defensively can make it extra hard. They’ve got a great ball club. We were fortunate at the end to get a few stops, make a few plays, and we hit our free throws down the stretch.”
In a back-and-forth first quarter, it was the Grangers taking a 16-15 lead.
It remained tight in the second period, with neither team leading by more than four points.
The Grangers were down by three when Perry hit a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer, and it was a 33-33 game at the break.
“That shot he hit before the half was a momentum shift for us,” Veal said.
The Grangers went on a 10-2 run to close the third period, and that allowed them to take a 56-48 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Musketeers weren’t going away, though.
Twice in the fourth period they got as close as two points, although the Grangers never lost the lead.
LaGrange’s lead was six when Russell got clear of the Richmond Academy defense on a fast break, and his dunk made it an eight-point game.
On the other end, Richmond Academy went inside, as it had been doing throughout the fourth quarter.
Fanning was up to the challenge, and he swatted a shot attempt away, and it was Gray beating the Musketeers down the floor for the dunk, the lead was 75-65 with two minutes to play.
“The defense leads to offense,” Fanning said.
There was still plenty of time remaining, so the Grangers weren’t about to relax.
“You just keep going,” Perry said. “You don’t stop until the clock’s at zero.”
The Musketeers had no answer, though.
They got within eight with 1:38 to play, but that’s as close as they’d come the rest of the way.
Perry was 4-of-4 from the free-throw line in the closing moments, and Fanning also made a pair of free throws late.
With the familiar chant of “L-G, L-G, L-G” raining down from the boisterous student section, the clock made its way toward zero.
When the game ended, the students and players celebrated a big-time win by a team that is having a special season.
Now, LaGrange will look to take it another step by beating a Henry County team that is 23-5 and is coming off an 82-52 win over Lafayette in the second round of the state tournament on Wednesday.
For the moment, the Grangers can savor a well-deserved victory over an outstanding opponent.
“It was fun,” Fanning said. “I enjoyed the crowd, and we enjoyed the atmosphere.”
OF NOTE: For more photos from Thursday’s game, check out Facebook.com/LDNSports