JEFFERSON — Kevin Morris and the Jefferson Dragons are taking no satisfaction in their 55-45 win over Monroe-Albany Wednesday night that sent them into the Class 3A semifinals for the first since 2010.
Well, maybe a little.
“We’re extremely happy about getting this win, for sure,” Morris said afterwards. “But by no means are we satisfied with just getting to the semifinals. We want more.”
They’ll get their chance Saturday at 8 p.m. against Central-Macon at Valdosta State University.
“We don’t know anything about them but we’re going to start getting ready,” Morris said. “Again, we’re going to go down there we the attitude of not just being happy to be there but looking to win.”
The Dragons (21-7) led from start-to-finish Wednesday against the Tornadoes (21-7) paced by Jacob Radaker and Owen Parker. Parker dished out assists on the opening three baskets for Jefferson, two to Malaki Starks and one to Radaker on virtual layups as they ran out to a 6-0 lead in the first three minutes.
Only once did Monroe get within four points, 13-9 to end the first quarter, and only once more did the Tornadoes pull within six points, at 32-26 midway through the third quarter.
Jefferson used an 11-0 run, capped by a basket from Parker off a feed from Radaker, to open the second quarter for a 24-9 lead. Monroe closed to within 26-16 by halftime and used a 10-6 run to open the third quarter to get to 32-26.
But the Dragons answered that with a 9-0 run for a 41-26 lead. The Tornadoes made one final push climbing to within 47-39 behind a seven-point outburst from Dominik Henderson over a 90-second stretch.
Jefferson held off the charge hitting 6-of-8 free throws over the final two minutes to preserve the victory.
It was expected to be a defensive battle as the Tornadoes came in yielding the fewest points in Class 3A (just 47.7 points a game). The race would be which offense could get there first and the Dragons hit that with more than three minutes left.
“The plan was to go inside to Jacob -- that’s always the plan for us anyway -- and they guys did a lot moving and shifting and finding the open guy. We had a lot of layups which is good anytime.”
Radaker paced Jefferson with 20 points while Parker added 14 and 9 assists. Starks finished with 10 points for the Dragons.
Henderson led Monroe with 13 points and Koreen Nixon added 12. Tornadoes’ leading scorer Marcis Ellis managed just 10, with just 3 points over the final 11 minutes.
GAC GIRLS 54,
The Lady Dragons picked a bad time to have an off night. At the same time, the Lady Spartans played perhaps their most complete game of the season in stealing a road playoff win to advance to the Class 3A semifinals.
The loss was the first for Jefferson (25-3) against a Class 3A team this season after 18 straight wins in the classification.
For Jefferson coach Greg Brown it was a tough way to end the season.
“We battled through a lot this year with injuries and things so for us to get back to the same spot was a credit to the girls and how hard they worked,” Brown said. “But we feel like we maybe let this one get away. We had chances at the end but just couldn’t finish.”
Jefferson trailed much of the game after a blistering start. The Lady Dragons stormed out at the start with a pair of steals and a quick 6-0 run in the opening minute. But GAC clawed back forcing two turnovers to spark an 8-3 run to get within 9-8 and the first quarter ended with Jefferson leading 13-12.
The Lady Spartans got their first lead at 15-13 on a Jaci Bolden 3-pointer to open the second quarter and Kaleigh Addie pushed the lead to 17-13 on a steal and layup moments later. Jefferson answered that with a 7-0 run highlighted by a 3-pointer and driving layup by Livi Blackstock for a 20-17 advantage with just over five minutes left.
But GAC used a tenacious defense to force three turnovers that were converted into eight points by the Lady Spartans to close out the half on a 13-6 run for a 30-26 halftime lead.
The GAC lead ballooned to 39-30 midway through the third quarter before Jefferson mounted a ferocious rally. Blackstock and Deshona Gaither led a 15-5 run into the fourth quarter that culminated with a Courtney Kidd basket for a 45-44 lead with 5:33 left.
But two huge Jefferson turnovers helped fuel an 8-2 GAC run for a 52-47 lead that the Lady Spartans would not relinquish. Jefferson, however, looked poised to pull off the comeback getting to within 52-51 on Gaither layup with 1:24 left.
GAC also gave the Lady Dragons two opportunities missing the front end of two 1-and-1 attempts. But two more Jefferson turnovers in the final 30 seconds sealed their fate.
“The turnovers were big but it wasn’t just that,” Brown said. “GAC shot the ball a lot better than they had shown on film. They hit some shots they don’t normally hit. You have to give (GAC) credit for playing a good game.”
Blackstock finished with a game-high 20 points and Gaither added 11 points. Allianne Clark chipped in 10 points but no one else had more than 5 points for Jefferson.
Addie led GAC with 15 points with Bolden and Ava Irvin pouring in 14 points each.
GAC moves on to play defending state champion Johnson-Savannah at 6 p.m. Saturday in the semifinals at Valdosta State.