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Lady Tigers advance to final four

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

MCDONOUGH – They’re final-four bound.

The Troup Lady Tigers (26-1) continued their extraordinary season with a 58-48 road win over McDonough to advance to the semifinals of the Class AAAA state tournament.

Troup’s opponent will be defending state champion Carver, and they’ll play on Friday at 2 p.m. at Fort Valley State.

McDonough had a three-point advantage at the half, but Troup dominated the third quarter to take a 42-32 lead.

McDonough got as close as two points with less than three minutes to play, but Troup never lost its poise and ended up winning by double digits.

The tournament began with 32 teams, and only four of them are remaining, including the Lady Tigers.

“It means a lot (to get to the semifinals), and we’ll have to keep working to reach out full potential, to get where we want to go,” said freshman Alexcia Murphy. “We want to win state.

After an inconsistent first half, Troup had everything working in the third quarter when it outscored McDonough 21-8 to turn a three-point deficit into a 10-point lead.

Murphy, who led Troup with 25 points, did a lot of the damage in the third quarter with eight points, all in the paint.

It was flawless execution in the third quarter, and those eight minutes are a key reason why the Lady Tigers are still playing.

“They were having fun, they were smiling,” said Troup head coach Carla Thornton said. “They were passing the ball to each other, people were making shots. If you trust your teammates and they come through for you, it makes the game fun.”

Monyia Murphy, who had four points during the decisive third quarter, believes the team came out with a greater sense of urgency in the second half knowing what was at stake.

“We knew if we lose, we’re going home, and we don’t want to go home,” she said. “So we went out there we shot the ball, played defense, we did our thing. We didn’t want to go home.”

Amber Gilbert scored 14 points for Troup, and she was 5-of-5 from the free-throw line while making some clutch plays late in the game to help secure the win.

Aniya Palmer scored seven points while knocking down all three of her free-throw attempts, and Samarria Weldon had six points, all in the second half.

In the first quarter, Gilbert and Alexcia Murphy combined for 14 points as Troup built a 14-13 lead.

Troup scored the first five points of the second quarter to go up by six, but McDonough answered with an 11-0 run to go ahead 24-19 late in the half.

Gilbert made a pair of free throws with 36 seconds left in the third quarter to make it a three-point game, and McDonough’s lead was 24-21 at the half.

McDonough had a 28-23 lead in the third quarter when Palmer drove to the basket and scored while getting fouled, and she converted the free throw to make it a two-point game.

The Lady Tigers tied it moments later on a Weldon basket, and Gilbert’s two free throws with 4:15 to play in the third quarter gave her team a 30-28 lead.

The Lady Tigers kept applying the pressure, and when Monyia Murphy made a jump shot with 10 seconds in the third quarter, the lead was 42-32.

McDonough hung around in the fourth quarter and got within two points with a little more than two minutes to play.

Troup needed someone to step up and make a play, and Gilbert was up to the challenge.

Gilbert, a senior who has provided so many big moments over the years, drove between a pair of defenders, and despite getting fouled, made the lay-up to stem McDonough’s momentum.

Gilbert also made the free throw, and Troup led 51-46 with 2:55 to play.

Thirty seconds later, Gilbert pulled down a rebound of a missed free throw, and she scored to push the lead to eight with 2:20 to play.

Troup’s lead was at least eight points the rest of the way.

No matter what happens the rest of the way it has already been a spectacularly successful season for the Lady Tigers, but there’s more work to do.

“They’re not satisfied,” Thornton said. “They have their own goals. They’re ready to go.”