Tigers roll to Area championship
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
It took the right flip of a coin for the T.R. Miller Tigers to earn the right to host the Class 3A Area 1 Tournament.
T.R. Miller will also be at home when it begins sub-regional competition Friday, but the Tigers earned that right on the court with their 67-45 triumph over the Clarke County Bulldogs in Saturday's Area championship game.
"It was our best game of the season. Our offense clicked on all cylinders. Our defense was not quite as good by comparison, but we did an excellent job of shutting down two of their top scorers, Raynell Armstrong and Ben Burroughs. Armstrong had one point and Burroughs had three. A lot of that credit goes to Gerald Banton. He only had two points, but he played a great defensive game. He shuts people down."
T.R. Miller and Clarke County split two regular season meetings, as each prevailed on its home court. The Tigers (16-11) made sure early on Saturday's decisive match would belong to them.
After Jonathan Horn's basket at the start of the game gave Clarke County its lone lead, T.R. Miller responded with a 13-0 run.
Trey Paul struck from inside with a bucket and two free throws before the Tigers went outside. Damien Jackson buried a three-pointer, while Greg Bogan began a blistering first quarter with back-to-back treys to make it 13-2. Bogan later added a third three-pointer in the quarter although he missed an opportunity at the foul line to turn that one into a four-point play.
The Tigers opened up a 12-point lead on three occcasions in the first quarter, the last of which came when Bogan drove inside and scored in the final minute to make it 22-10. Those were Bogan's 10th and 11 points of the frame on his way to a game high 25.
Free throws have not been a kind area for T.R. Miller most of the season, but that was not the case Saturday where the Tigers hit 13 of 16 in the first half and 25 of 35 for the game.
Trey Walker hit five of six free throw attempts midway through the second period, as T.R. Miller extended its lead to 29-14.
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The Tigers alternated free throws and field goals during an 8-0 run that knocked their lead up to a first half high of 37-16. Paul hit two free throws and then turned a steal into an assist for Damien Jackson. After Bogan connected on two attempts from the free throw line, Laine Lucas scored from down low.
About the only thing that went wrong in the first half for the Tigers occurred in the waning moments. That was a turnover that led a hoop by Cardarrious Hill at the buzzer that cut T.R. Miller's lead to 37-20 at half-time.
Paul scored on an inbounds pass and Kreij Bougard scored from inside the lane early in the third quarter to bump the gap up to 41-20 before the Tigers' championship path hit some snags.
"They wanted to push the tempo up and we got caught up in that for a while before we got things settled back down," Atkinson said.
A pair of buckets plus a free throw by Karl Johnson and a field goal by Jonathan Horn quickly reduced the lead to 41-27.
Although T.R. Miller withstood that charge and actually widened the lead to 49-33 by the end of the quarter, Clarke County was not done just yet.
A three-pointer by Burroughs, a free throw by Armstrong and a hoop by Johnson cut the lead to just 50-39 with six minutes still left.
T.R. Miller stopped the Bulldogs right there. Bogan started a 7-0 run with a free throw followed by a layup, Paul hit two charity tosses and Lucas scored from down low to knock the advantage up to a more comfortable margin of 57-39. The Tigers got their lead back up to 20 points on a dunk by Bogan in the final minute.
T.R. Miller will host Area 6 runner-up Francis Marion Friday in sub-regional competition at 7 p.m. Francis Marion dropped a 53-49 decision to Sumter County Saturday in its Area championship game.
"We were in this exact same position last year (at home) against Francis Marion (a 63-41 loss). We had a terrible week of practice and got what we deserved," Atkinson said. "From here on out we'll be facing teams with a lot more athleticism. We've won nine of our last 11 games now so this is a group that is playing with a lot of confidence right now. It's also an advantage to be playing at home."
At T.R. Miller
Clarke County 10 10 13 12 – 45
T.R. Miller 22 15 12 18 – 67
CLARKE COUNTY (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) Johnson 8-2-1-23; Horn 5-0-0-10; Hill 2-0-0-4; Davis 1-0-2-4; Burroughs 0-1-0-3; Armstrong 0-0-1-1 (Totals: 16-3-4-45)
T.R. MILLER (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) Bogan 4-3-8-25; Paul 3-0-10-16; Walker 1-0-6-8; D. Jackson 2-1-0-7; Bougard 2-0-1-5; Lucas 2-0-0-4; Banton 1-0-0-2 (Totals: 15-4-25-67)