E.A. Sports Today

February frenzy

In high school it’s not quite March Madness, but Talladega lives to play another day after edging Jacksonville

Talladega’s D’Corian Wilson (20) gets behind the Jacksonville defense and lays it in for two of his 19 points Tuesday’s subregion game. (Photo by Greg Warren)

By John Mitchell 
For East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – It isn’t March, but you could forgive anyone in attendance here Tuesday for mistaking they were experiencing March Madness.
For high schools, March Madness comes a month early with win-or-go-home contests cranking up the intensity of the on-court product. Played at a frantic pace in a frenzied atmosphere, with spurts by both sides and plenty of late-game drama, Talladega held on to a 63-60 win over Jacksonville to advance to the Class 4A Northeast Regional Tournament at Jacksonville State. 

Jacksonville’s Yessman Green (14) and Donavon McCain trap Talladega’s J.Q. Wilson along the basebline. (Photo by Greg Warren

This time of the year it’s all about surviving and advancing, it doesn’t matter what it looks like or by how much. 
“We survived to play another game,” Talladega head coach Chucky Miller said. 
The Tigers will face DAR Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. at Pete Mathews Coliseum. DAR survived to defeat Good Hope 64-62 in its own nail-biting subregional contest.
Leading by three with 24-seconds to play, Talladega’s Nigel Scales missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Jacksonville the opportunity to tie the game. 
DeMarien Stewart had a look at the top of the key to tie it, but was forced to double pump off of a good challenge, and his shot hit the front iron, rattled around a little and fell off.
Donavon McCain got the offensive round for Jacksonville, but missed a quick two that would have given the Golden Eagles life. The Tigers secured the rebound to finally finish off a team that refused to die.
“The kids played so hard, they played with a lot of heart,” Jacksonville coach Cordell Hunt said. “They just made a couple more plays than we did.”  
Talladega got off to a quick start, bursting out of the gate to a 19-8 lead after the first quarter. The Tigers’ defensive pressure befuddled the Golden Eagles, forcing several turnovers and leading to easy run-out buckets to build the early double-digit lead. D’Corian Wilson scored nine of his 19 points in the first quarter, hitting a 3 early and getting some easy two’s in transition. 
“We took off early,” Wilson said. “But then we started the second quarter and couldn’t really score.”

“We did the spurt on them to get up, but you knew they were going to give a spurt right back at you,” Miller said. “Basketball in 2019 is a game of spurts; you’ve got to end their spurt and keep yours going.” 
Jacksonville flipped the script in the second quarter, cranking up its own defensive pressure and finding a way to break Talladega’s aggressive defensive approach. The Golden Eagles swung the ball around the perimeter, forcing the Tigers to run ragged trying to cover ground. It paid off as it outscored Talladega 19-9 in the second quarter to cut the deficit to one point going into halftime. 
With everything going wrong early for the Golden Eagles, it was junior Donavon McCain who steadied the team, repeatedly making plays on the glass and coming up with buckets to spark runs for his team. McCain finished with another monster double-double of 23 points and 14 rebounds.
“Donovan kept us in the game,” Hunt said. “He keeps us in games no matter what because he’s such a good inside presence. He rebounds the ball better than any player I’ve ever had, and he finishes well around the rim.” 
After a back-and-forth third quarter that saw Talladega take a 47-43 lead going into the fourth quarter, it looked like the Tigers were finally putting Jacksonville away in the fourth quarter. Talladega opened the final period on a 10-3 run to extend its lead to 11. 
Omarion Adams hit a big 3 to cut the lead to eight, and then after a timeout, Hunt called for a full-court press to crank up the pressure. It immediately paid dividends, with back-to-back turnovers leading to two layups by McCain and then a 3-pointer from DeMarien Stewart that cut the Tigers’ lead to 57-56. 
After trading buckets, Wilson scored to put Talladega up 61-58. After a pair of Kyre’ Maynor free throws cut the lead to one, Adams came up with one of his four steals and had an opportunity to put Jacksonville ahead with a contested layup in transition that couldn’t quite find the bottom of the net. 
“Our passes were way too careless late in the game,” Miller said. “You’ve got to protect the ball and not float any passes like we did.”
Jacksonville still had an opportunity at the end, following the missed free throw by Scales. Out of a timeout, Hunt called up a play to get a look from 3 for Stewart, who hit five 3-pointers on his way to 17 points. With the ball in Maynor’s hands at the top, Hunt called a high pick-and-roll that had Stewart set the pick and then slip the screen to the top of the key for a shot. 
“He had two good looks at it,” Hunt said. “The first one he didn’t like, and the second one I think may have gotten tipped a little bit, but it was a good look.” 

Donavon McCain (2) challenges Talladega’s Arron Green during the team’s subregional playoff game Tuesday night. (Photo by Greg Warren)

The challenge by Talladega forced an adjustment in the air by Stewart, ultimately leading to him not having quite enough on the shot to get it to fall. 
The margins this time of the year are razor-thin; little unforced errors seem to count double when your back is against the wall and your season is on the line. Jacksonville turned it over 15 times and dug itself an early hole that it spent the entire game fighting back from. 
Talladega’s defensive pressure forced the Golden Eagles to take a lot of jump shots. Jacksonville shot 36 percent from the floor, jacking up two dozen 3-balls as it struggled to find any room whatsoever in the paint. Stewart and Adams combined to hit 8-of-14 attempts from behind the arc, while the rest of the team combined to go 0-of-10.
Played at such an up-tempo pace and with a raucous Jacksonville student-section providing the perfect backdrop for a game with so much at stake, the teams combined for 27 turnovers as nerves and the desire to make a play overwhelmed their better instincts.
Talladega felt those nerves at times, with the gym getting louder and louder each time Jacksonville made a run. Every time, though, it felt like Wilson came up with a play when his team needed him to. He played the whole way, scoring his 19 points on an efficient 9-of-12 shooting. 
“I had to lead my team,” Wilson said. “We were feeling the environment on the court, but we just had to keep playing through it even when they made a big play. We had to regroup and keep fighting.”
For Talladega, the term “survive and advance” seems fitting. There wasn’t so much winning and losing on Tuesday night with two quality basketball teams fighting tooth-and-nail to the finish line. Talladega survived Jacksonville, and it will live to play another game as the Tigers look to make a run to their third consecutive Final Four. 
For Jacksonville, the Golden Eagles are left to wonder “what if?” after getting off to such a sluggish start and unforced errors plaguing them at inopportune moments. This was a heavyweight fight, however, with both teams leaving everything they had out on the hardwood until the clock hit zeroes.

Talladega 63, Jacksonville 60
TALLADEGA (22-8) –
D’Corian Wilson 9-12 0-1 19, Arron Green 6-12 2-3 15, Kobe Simmons 4-11 1-2 10, J.Q. Wilson 5-9 0-0 10, Nigel Scales 3-9 1-3 7, Jaquon Chatman 1-2 0-0 2, RaDerius Montgomery 0-1 0-0 0, Brocker Simmons 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-56 4-9 63.
JACKSONVILLE – Donavon McCain 8-17 7-7 23, DeMarien Stewart 6-13 0-0 17, Omarion Adams 4-8 3-4 14, Kyrie Maynor 0-4 2-2 2, Hudson Harvey 1-3 0-2 2, Jay Davis 1-6 0-0 2, Yessman Green 0-4 0-0 0, Nathan Barnwell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-55 12-15 60.
Talladega       19       9          19       16       –          63
Jacksonville    8        19       16       17       –          60
3-point goals: Talladega 3-11 (D. Wilson 1-1, Green 1-3, Simmons 1-2, Scales 0-4, Montgomery 0-1); Jacksonville 8-24 (McCain 0-2, Stewart 5-10, Adams 3-4, Maynor 0-3, Davis 0-2, Green 0-3). Rebounds: Talladega 30 (Green 8, Simmons 8); Jacksonville 38 (McCain 14). Total fouls: Talladega 15, Jacksonville 13.

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