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Blue Devils take Miller Invitational

By By SCOTT COOPER – Sports Writer
After defeating the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles in the second round of the T.R. Miller Holiday Invitational held Jan. 2-4 at Miller Gym, the T.R. Miller Tigers faced the Escambia County Blue Devils in the championship finale.
The Tigers and Blue Devils had split two hard-fought games played earlier in the season and their third meeting promised to be the same type intensely-contested affair. Although both teams competed hard and with the intentions of earning the tournament championship, the Blue Devils' domination in the second half allowed them to return home with the tournament's top trophy.
T.R. Miller 69, W.S. Neal 51
With their half-court pressure defense making things difficult for Neal in a Jan. 3 second-round game, the Tigers took advantage of early Blue Eagle turnovers and offensive miscues to build an insurmountable lead and emerge with a 69-51 win.
As a result of the win, the Tigers placed themselves in position to claim the championship on Jan. 4 with a victory over the Escambia County Blue Devils.
The Tigers got early offensive production from DaWaun Johnson, Dominic Johnson and Greg Bogan in building an 8-0 lead with 4:40 remaining in the opening period. Following a Neal basket that cut the margin to 8-2, a couple of 3-point jumpers from Bogan was the catalyst that lifted Miller on a 12-0 run and 20-2 lead with less than 30 seconds left in the quarter. A Blue Eagle basket just before the horn sounded reduced the margin to 20-5.
The Tigers began the second quarter getting inside with ease. DaWaun Johnson and Neal Cheatham each scored from in close to pace the Tigers in a 7-0 run that made the score 27-5 with 5:45 to go in the half.
As the period progressed, the Miller advantage continued to escalate. With DaWaun Johnson, Dominic Johnson and Cheatham controlling the action inside the paint, the Tigers rolled to a 25-point cushion, 41-16, as the teams headed to the locker room for the break.
At the beginning of the third quarter, the Blue Eagles came out with fire in their eyes, going on a 13-4 run that cut the Tiger lead to 45-29 with three minutes left in the period. Bogan's two consecutive 3-point bombs went a long way in righting the ship for the Tigers and allowed them to take a 53-36 advantage into the final quarter.
In a hotly contested fourth period, the two teams played to a virtual deadlock. Dominic Johnson performed well underneath the basket while Drakeford and Bogan nailed 3-pointers to prevent the Blue Eagles from seriously threatening the lead. As the final buzzer sounded to end play, the Tigers were owners of an 18-point victory that gave them the opportunity to play for the championship.
Scoring leaders for Miller were Greg Bogan, 21 points including six 3-pointers; Ryheem Drakeford, 11 points; Dominic Johnson, 11 points and DaWaun Johnson, 10 points.
Escambia County 59, T.R. Miller 42
In the tournament's Jan. 4 championship finale between the Tigers and the Escambia County Blue Devils, the lead changed hands repeatedly in the opening half before the Blue Devils seized a slim 4-point advantage at intermission.
In the final 16 minutes of play, Escambia County's defense took the Tigers out of sync in their offensive efforts. Meanwhile, the Escambia County offense operated like a well-oiled machine and continually kept the Miller defense on its heels in an impressive 59-42 Blue Devils' win that earned them the tournament championship.
The win improves the Blue Devils to 13-3 on the season while the loss places the Tigers' season record at 9-4.
Both teams began the contest crashing the boards and playing with the intensity one would expect in a title game.
The Blue Devils grabbed a quick 2-0 lead on a Kenneth Clark basket before the Tigers tied the game at 2-2 on a drive to the hole by DaWaun Johnson. Following 3-point jump shots by Johnson and Greg Bogan, the Miller lead was increased to six points, 8-2, with 6:10 left in the opening quarter.
Over the next three minutes, Escambia County took advantage of a basket by Phillip Sharp and 3-pointers by Lorenzo Arnold and Jeremy McCants to cut the Miller lead down to one, 11-10. After a Layton Knight basket gave the Blue Devils a 12-11 lead, a Johnson 3-pointer coupled with a Neal Cheatham putback after grabbing a rebound gave the Tigers a 16-12 quarter-ending advantage.
With both teams playing a packed-in zone defense in the second stanza, neither offense had much success penetrating into the lane. The defensive intensity of the two squads was reflected in the low-scoring period.
Consecutive baskets by Ryheem Drakeford opened a 21-14 Tiger lead with 3:50 left in the half, but then the Blue Devils went on a 12-1 run. Knight, McCants and Clark caught fire in the rally that allowed Escambia County to enter the halftime break up by four, 26-22.
In the third quarter, the Blue Devils rode the hot hand of McCants while stretching their advantage to a comfortable margin. With McCants responsible for five of Escambia County's 13 points in the period, the Blue Devils leaped out front, 39-28, as the teams entered the final-quarter showdown.
Any comeback thoughts of the Tigers were soon put to rest by the Blue Devils' fourth-period performance.
After a Johnson basket cut the Escambia County lead down to eight, 41-33, with just over 6:00 remaining, Clark and Knight took over on the offensive end in an 18-9 game-ending run that put the wraps on the Blue Devils' 17-point championship victory.
Offensive leaders for the Tigers were DaWaun Johnson, 13 points and Neal Cheatham, 11 points.
Scoring leaders for the Blue Devils were Layton Knight, 22 points; Kenneth Clark, 16 points; Jeremy McCants, 12 points and Lorenzo Arnold, 10 points.