Troup’s special season continues
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The Troup Lady Tigers, thanks to their riveting 46-45 road win over Cross Creek on Thursday night, are alive and kicking in the Class AAAA state tournament.
Troup, which is one of eight teams left standing in the state tournament, will look to keep the good times rolling with a road win over McDonough on Tuesday, with tip-off set for 6 p.m.
McDonough earned its spot in the quarterfinals with a 60-42 win over Northwest Whitfield on Thursday.
It has been an exceptional season for Troup, which improved to 25-1 with the win over Cross Creek.
Troup lost in the Region 5-AAAA championship game to Sandy Creek, but it has beaten Chestatee and Cross Creek in the state tournament to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2012.
McDonough (17-12), which finished second in the Region 4-AAAA tournament, has blown out Perry and Northwest Whitfield to advance to the final eight.
For Troup, everything has fallen into place during a memorable season.
Troup went 22-0 in the regular season and beat Cedartown in the first round of the region tournament before falling to Sandy Creek.
Troup bounced back from the Sandy Creek loss with a convincing 63-37 win over Chestatee before securing the dramatic win over Cross Creek.
Troup was trailing by a point with six seconds left when Aniya Palmer pulled down a rebound of a missed free throw, and she raced down the court and passed the ball to freshman Alexcia Murphy, who made the game-winning shot as time expired.
What a moment that was for a player who, a year ago, was just finishing up her final season as a middle-school player.
“I was thinking that Aniya was going to go all the way to the goal,” Murphy said. “When she passed it, in my head, I knew I had to score. I was at the goal, so I knew I had to make it, I had to make that shot.”
Murphy added that the “shot was nothing but God. God was with me on that shot.”
When Palmer saw the ball go through the basket, she knew she and her teammates had more basketball to play.
“It’s hard to explain how much it means,” Palmer said. “We were so excited, because this is what we’ve been working for.”
Head coach Carla Thornton appreciates the willingness of everyone on the team to buy into what she’s doing, something that was evident on Thursday night when the players kept trusting the process, even when things were going awry.
“It’s just having confidence in me, having faith in me, and trusting what I tell them,” Thornton said. “Even when things get down sometimes, when I tell them things in a timeout, they go out and they do it. They don’t try to change what I say and do their own thing. They try to do what I ask them, and that shows how much they respect me, and how much faith they have in me as their coach.”
Thornton is also pleased with the unselfish nature of the players, which was made clear on the game-winning play.
Palmer could have driven to the basket and taken the final shot herself, but instead she passed the ball, trusting that her teammate would get the job done.
“Alexcia, she missed a lot of easy shots in the game, but at the end of the game (Palmer) was unselfish and passed the ball, and gave her teammate that look,” Thornton said. “I thought that was huge, to have confidence in her. To put the game in a freshman’s hands, that shows how much we trust each other.”
Murphy is grateful for the trust her teammates, including Palmer, showed in her.
“It was really great,” Murphy said. “I felt like they had my back through everything. They had me.”
Amber Gilbert, a four-year starter who is having a big senior season, led Troup with 18 points while making five 3-pointers, including one that tied the game with less than a minute left.
Murphy added 11 points, Samarria Weldon scored nine points, and Palmer contributed eight points.
Monyia Murphy, Darnesheyuna McDollough and Jada Green played and didn’t score, but they contributed to the win in other ways.
It was far from a flawless performance for the Lady Tigers, who hurt themselves by missing 15 of their 21 free-throw attempts.
“We know it wasn’t our best game,” Thornton said. “We had a lot of people that could have gone better, and some shots didn’t fall.”
Somehow, though, the Lady Tigers shrugged off the adversity and found a way to win and move one step closer to a state championship.
“For myself, I didn’t play good at all,” Palmer said. “I know a few of my other teammates we didn’t play good either. But at the end, we all came together and did what we’re supposed to do. I’m proud that we all stuck together, and we worked hard.”
Troup’s quarterfinal opponent is a McDonough team that has found its footing come tournament time.
McDonough, which finished fourth in Region 3-AAAA during the regular season, beat North Clayton 65-45 in the first round of the region tournament.
In the semifinals, McDonough stunned top-seeded Woodward Academy 61-57 in overtime to advance to the championship game where it lost to Luella 61-57 in overtime.
In the state tournament, McDonough has two blowout wins to its credit, and now it gets to host a quarterfinal game.
McDonough features a balanced offense, with three players averaging between 12 points and 14 points a game.
Sky Watters, a junior forward, leads McDonough in scoring at 14 points per game, and she had 18 points in the win over Woodward Academy.
The winner of Tuesday’s game will play either Carver-Columbus or Woodward Academy in the semifinals at Fort Valley State.
WHAT: Quarterfinals of Class AAAA state tournament
WHEN: Tuesday, 6 p.m.