Tigers earn decisive win over Blue Eagles
By By SCOTT COOPER – Sports Writer
Over the first quarter-and-a-half of play, the T.R. Miller Tigers' and W.S. Neal Blue Eagles' Jan. 14 matchup at Neal High School had the makings of a good brawl.
The two cross-creek and Area-1 rivals settled into a slugfest that continued from the first quarter to midway through the second before Miller broke free and ran away to a comfortable halftime lead. After establishing an advantage, the Tigers not only maintained control, but also continued padding their cushion in an 84-63 win.
While notching their fourth win in a row, the Tigers improved their season record to 13-4 and moved to 2-0 against area competition.
With the loss, Neal dropped to 5-14 overall and 0-3 in area play.
In the fast and furious action of the opening quarter, the lead continuously changed as the two teams battled to gain the upper hand.
Neal Cheatham gave Miller a 2-0 lead with a layup in the game's opening seconds, but then Neal's Chris Johnson hit a couple of free throws to knot the score at 2-2. After Ryheem Drakeford's drive to the basket put the Tigers up 4-2, Johnson's turnaround jumper pulled the Blue Eagles even, 4-4, with 6:45 left in the period. DaWaun Johnson gave Miller the lead at 6-4 with his putback after a rebound before the Blue Eagles' J.J. Pitts dialed-in from 3-point range for a 7-6 Neal lead. After a 6-4 Tigers' run over the next couple of minutes, Pitts once again found the range with a 3-pointer that gave the Blue Eagles a 14-13 advantage with just under 3:00 to go.
As the first-quarter seconds ticked down, Neal held a 16-15 lead and had possession before a missed shot and Miller outlet pass resulted in a Drakeford dunk that allowed the Tigers to enter the second stanza on top, 17-16.
The opening minutes of the second quarter mirrored the play of the first period as the action continued at a torrid pace. However, the Tigers' rebounding edge and defensive pressure began to take a toll on the Blue Eagles midway through the quarter.
A DaWaun Johnson 3-pointer coupled with a Drakeford putback gave Miller a 22-16 lead before Marcus Folmar scored a basket underneath and Nick Benjamin hit a 3-point shot to pull Neal back within a point, 22-21.
The Tigers built a bit of a cushion at 26-22 with 4:00 to go in the half, but then Keith Woods was fouled while scoring a basket inside the paint. Woods hit the free throw to complete a 3-point play and once again move the Blue Eagles within one, 26-25.
Two consecutive 3-pointers by Cheatham gave Miller a 32-25 lead, and from that point the Tigers never looked back. In the final minutes before intermission, the Tigers continued on a 14-3 run that gave them a commanding 46-28 halftime lead.
The Tigers came out firing on all cylinders in the third quarter, going on a 7-2 run over the first three minutes to stretch the leading margin to 23 points, 53-20. As the quarter continued, the momentum that Miller enjoyed did nothing but escalate. Outscoring the Blue Eagles 24-8 in the period, the Tigers were in total control, 70-36, entering the final quarter.
In the fourth period, Neal took advantage of long-range jump shots to reduce the deficit. Although four Blue Eagles' 3-pointers in the final eight minutes of play lessened the Tigers' advantage, the final buzzer sounded with Miller in possession of a 21-point victory.
Offensive leaders for the Tigers were DaWaun Johnson, 21 points; Ryheem Drakeford, 16 points; Neal Cheatham, 13 points; Trey Paul, 11 points and Dominic Johnson, 10 points.
Nick Benjamin and J.J. Pitts led the Blue Eagles with 19 and 14 points, respectively.