LaGrange’s turn to celebrate
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The LaGrange Grangers weren’t going to let this one slip away.
The Grangers have had their struggles in close games this season, as evidenced by the three overtime losses against Region 2-AAAA opponents.
One of those overtime setbacks came at the hands of the Troup Tigers two weeks ago, and those cross-town rivals shared the court once again on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Region 2-AAAA tournament.
Once again it came down to the wire, and this time it was LaGrange making the plays it needed to down the stretch to secure a 57-51 victory.
While LaGrange advances to the semifinals to play Hardaway on Friday, the season came to a heart-breaking conclusion for Troup.
“Going into the fourth quarter, I said the fourth quarter hasn’t gone our way the past few weeks, it’s going to go our way tonight, and it did,” said LaGrange head coach Mark Veal.
LaGrange was clinging to a two-point lead when Mydarius Scott made a free throw with 37 seconds left to make it a 54-51 game.
After a Troup missed shot, Tristan Smith pulled down a rebound, and Javon Brown made one-of-two free throws after being fouled, pushing the lead to 55-51 with 20 seconds to play.
The Tigers missed a 3-pointer on their next possession, and the Grangers pushed the ball down the court, and after a Taylor Stephens miss, Javon Brown’s follow-up dunk as time expired put the exclamation mark on the dramatic win, setting off a jubilant celebration.
Junior guard Kobe Jones, who led the Grangers with 22 points including 14 points in the fourth quarter, happily watched the clock hit zero after Brown’s dunk.
“I thought that’s it’s, game over. We won,” Jones said. “If we can play with that intensity, and play like that, we’ve got a chance (to keep winning).”
Jones and his teammates made some costly mistakes during the previous loss to Troup, but it was a different story in the rematch.
Jones not only came through with his 14 clutch fourth-quarter points, but he expertly led the offense from the point-guard position.
Jones, recalling the previous Troup game, said the idea was to “be strong, and keep your composure. Don’t have any bad passes, and be patient. Just be smart and consistent.”
It was a big-time performance by Jones, and it didn’t go unnoticed by Troup head coach Blake Craft.
“Kobe Jones is a heck of a player,” Craft said. “You have to give him credit. He hit some shots down the stretch.”
Brown also had a big night for the Grangers with 20 points, and he scored six points in the fourth quarter.
Jones and Brown combined for all but five of LaGrange’s 25 points in the fourth quarter.
“We hit free throws, and Kobe did what he does, and Javon did what he does,” Veal said.
While the Grangers were obviously joyful after the emotional win, it was a tough night for the Tigers, who saw their season end on their home floor against their fiercest rival.
After the game, Troup head coach Blake Craft had one last post-game meeting with his players, including a committed group of seniors who led the way this season.
Troup (10-9 overall), after starting the season with three straight region losses, closed the regular season on a five-game winning streak against region opponents to earn the number three seed.
“I hate it for guys that laid it on the line,” said Craft, whose team had a 2-1 record against LaGrange this season. “We didn’t even think KJ (Tucker) would be able to play this year with what he went through, some health stuff. For Tre Sott and these other seniors, I hate it so much. I do.”
Craft encouraged the players to focus on all the positive things they accomplished this season.
“Don’t let this define you,” Craft said. “We got them twice, and they got us once. That’s what a rivalry is.”
Tucker, whose clutch 3-pointer sent the previous game against LaGrange into overtime, led the way on Thursday with 19 points, and he made two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Nick Philpot and Gabe Stepp, two other seniors, added nine points apiece.
The Tigers led 12-11 after the first quarter, and the Grangers were ahead 21-20 at the halftime break.
It was tied 30-30 late in the third quarter when senior Ricco Person made a 3-pointer, and that shot helped Troup take a 36-32 lead heading to the final quarter.
A Tucker 3-pointer with 4:39 to play gave the Tigers a 42-38 lead, and Jones answered with a 3-pointer of his own to make it a one-point game.
The Tigers were still ahead by a point when Jones scored with 3:17 left, giving the Grangers a 45-44 lead.
Moments later, a steal and layup by Jones gave the Grangers a 47-44 advantage with three minutes to play.
After the Grangers’ lead reached five, Tucker drained a 3-pointer with 2:18 to play, getting the Tigers within two.
Jones answered with another basket to give the Grangers a four-point lead, and Young scored to get the Tigers back within two.
The Grangers scored the game’s final four points to secure the win.
“They played good, too,” Veal said of Troup. They had some guys in foul trouble, and we were fortunate to get the ball to bounce our way tonight.”
LaGrange, the number seven seed, will host second-seeded Hardaway on Friday at 7:30 p.m., with the winner advancing to Saturday’s championship game to play Carver or Spencer.
Whatever happens this weekend, LaGrange has qualified for the 32-team state tournament.