On Saturday, Tift County was as good as advertised.
Tift won a battle of the top two boys basketball teams in Region 1-6A — and the two teams that have played in the last two Region 1-5A championship games — defeating Valdosta 86-57 in front of a standing-room only crowd at the TCHS gym. The win gives Tift a two-game lead in the region standings.
Tift excelled in nearly every area on Saturday, and walked away with a 29-point win.
The Tift boys are loaded with talent. They have a 6-foot-7 forward who has committed to Kansas (Brannen Greene). They have a junior point guard (Tadric Jackson) who could be a Division I signee next year. Several players who took the floor Saturday night looked like potential college prospects. Tift has six players who are 6-foot-4 or taller and four who are at least 6-foot-5.
On Saturday, they came ready to play. They shot the ball well from both the outside and the inside. They played tough defense, constantly putting a hand in the shooter's face. They used their size advantage to their advantage, playing a physical game, and with a trio of officials who chose to let the teams play and didn't call a lot of fouls, that was a huge advantage.
Valdosta matched Tift shot for shot in the first quarter, and led for a good portion of the period. After eight minutes, Tift held an 18-17 lead.
But midway through the second quarter, Tift took control of the game. TCHS was leading 30-29 with less than four minutes left in the first half when it suddenly caught fire. Jackson buried a three-pointer, then made two free throws on Tift's next possession. Ladarius Stewart made a layup, giving Tift a 37-29 lead, then Ali Vaughn made two free throws and Jackson drove the lane for a layup. Finally, Greene drained a three-pointer, completing a 14-0 run for Tift and making the score 44-29.
Tift led 42-31 at halftime.
Tift was leading 47-36 with 4:30 left in the third quarter when it went on another run. Donell Tuff got the ball and dunked it. Jackson made the first of two free throws, then D.J. Bryant grabbed the rebound after Jackson missed the second free throw and scored. Valdosta got two free throws by Rashad Lewis and a putback from Tra Barrett. Then Greene pushed a defender out of his way, got the ball near the top of the key and buried a three-pointer. Then Greene got the ball in transition and dunked. The teams traded jumpers, then Greene and Jackson scored on Tift's final two possessions of the third quarter. That 16-6 run extended Tift's lead to 22 points, 64-42, at the end of three quarters.
Tift added five more points to its lead in the fourth quarter, and extended its lead to 29 points at the end of the game.
The game was physical throughout, and tempers flared with 3:09 left in the game, after Valdosta's Jerahn Thomas was fouled by Jackson. A frustrated Thomas shoved Jackson back, and other players from both sides rushed in. The Valdosta and Tift coaches and the three officials quickly sprinted in and tried to separate everyone. Valdosta was assessed two technical fouls, and Greene made all four free throws afterwards.
Greene led all scorers with 27 points. Jackson had 21 points, and Bryant added 11 for Tift.
Lewis led Valdosta with 16 points. Thomas added 13.
The two teams will meet again next week in Valdosta.
Valdosta girls 48, Tift 36
The Lady Wildcats ended the Tift girls' 15-game winning streak with a 48-36 victory on Saturday.
Valdosta outscored Tift 20-4 in the last 11 minutes of the game, and pulled away for a 12-point region win.
With three minutes left in the third quarter, Tift held a 32-28 lead. But then Valdosta got hot and Tift went cold.
Valdosta's Shaneika Smith made a layup. With 19 seconds left in the quarter, Laquesha Newkirk tied the score with a jumper. Then Stormm Phillips stole the ball and made a pull-up jumper, and the Lady Wildcats headed to the fourth quarter holding a two-point lead, 34-32.
Valdosta's Destiny Covert started the fourth quarter scoring with a pair of baskets. Then Terri Oglesby completed the Lady Wildcats' 12-0 run with a turnaround jumper, extending Valdosta's lead to eight, 40-32, with 4:39 left in the game.
Brakia Bateman ended Tift's eight-plus minute scoring drought by making a hook shot while being fouled with 4:03 left in the game. But Oglesby answered with a layup at the other end. The teams went scoreless for the next two minutes, then Phillips' free throw with 1:31 left gave Valdosta a 43-34 lead. Dee Dee Deshazer make a basket for Tift. But the Lady Wildcats converted three free throws in the final minute, and Kaneshia Kimbrough's layup with 19 seconds left gave Valdosta its biggest lead of the game, 48-36, which turned out to be the final score.
The two teams went back and forth throughout the first half, with both teams holding several leads. Tift led 15-14 after one quarter, and Courtney Baker's basket with five seconds left in the first half gave Valdosta a one-point lead, 24-23, at halftime.
Tift regained the lead by scoring nine of the first 13 points of the third quarter. But then Valdosta took control of the game, and pulled away for a 12-point win.
Phillips led the Lady Wildcats with 16 points. Covert and Kimbrough had eight points apiece.
Alexis Johnson led Tift with 11 points. Bateman added 10.
On Saturday, Tift County was as good as advertised.
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