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EC runs down Tigers for county championship

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Frustrated? Sure. Disappointed? Yes. Any regrets? Not really.
There are just some nights a team runs up against a red hot opponent and the T.R. Miller Tigers found that foe in the name of the Escambia County Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils used their up and down the floor transition game as well as some torrid perimeter shooting to clip the Tigers 80-61 in Saturday's championship game of the Escambia County Tournament at Atmore.
It marked the second year in a row Escambia County has walked away with the county championship and it marked the second time this season the Blue Devils have gotten the best of T.R. Miller. With just a partial squad available, the Tigers dropped a 77-60 decision on the same Atmore floor back on November 30.
Even though T.R. Miller was back at full strength for the tournament, Saturday's third game in three days may have started to take its toll on those players who had rejoined the program less than a week before after the football season.
"We had some tired legs out there. Their transition game got to us and we didn't get back on defense as well as we needed. Escambia County also shot the ball extremely well from outside. They were probably about 50 percent on three-point shots and they did that with us in their faces. That's just tough to beat. Escambia County isn't 9-1 so far by accident. If they aren't state ranked when the rankings come out, something is wrong," T.R. Miller coach Rob Atkinson said.
The Tigers (2-2) were especially burned by tournament most valuable player Jeremy McCants, who clipped the nets for 25 points and three of the Blue Devils' seven three-pointers. Lorenzo Arnold added another 20 points and a pair of treys.
Sparked by a pair of buckets by Tye Walker and Chris Byrd's three-point play, T.R. Miller took a 10-4 lead in the first three minutes.
A pair of field goals by McCants triggered an 8-0 run by Escambia County that gave the Blue Devils their first lead. A hoop late in the quarter by T.R. Miller's Damien Jackson enabled the Tigers to end the frame even at 15-15.
There would be four more lead changes in the second quarter. T.R. Miller took its last lead when a basket by Byrd with four minutes left in the half gave the Tigers a 26-25 advantage.
McCants and Arnold combined for nine points in Escambia County's 11-3 run over the next three minutes that put the Blue Devils ahead for
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good. That surge helped Escambia County take a 37-31 halftime lead.
Led by 12 third quarter points by McCants, Escambia County pretty much secured its victory in that frame.
The knockout blow may have been a six-point possession by the Blue Devils with just over a minute left in the period. James drilled a three-pointer and a T.R. Miller foul underneath the basket gave the ball back to the host school. McCants then buried another trey that suddenly swelled Escambia County's advantage to 56-40.
The Tigers never got any closer than a 62-50 deficit after two Damien Jackson free throws early in the fourth quarter.
Twenty-six made free throws kept T.R. Milelr as close as it did as long as it did.
"We got them into foul trouble, but then we didn't finish that part of the job. We also didn't get some of the perimeter shooting we had earlier in the tournament," Atkinson said.
The Tigers, who had their home opener against Jay (Fla.) Tuesday, head to Monroe County Friday and Northview (Fla.) Saturday.
At Escambia County
Escambia County 15 22 22 21 – 80
T.R. Miller 15 16 15 17 – 63
ESCAMBIA COUNTY (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) McCants 7-3-2-25; Arnold 6-2-2-20; Andrews 5-0-1-11; James 0-2-4-10; Lewis 3-0-0-6; Hartley 3-0-0-6; Autrey 1-0-0-2 (Totals: 25-7-9-80)
T.R. MILLER (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) W. Jackson 3-1-9-18; Byrd 4-0-6-14; Lucas 3-0-4-10; D. Jackson 2-0-5-9; Walker 3-0-2-8; Brooks 1-0-0-2; Banton 1-0-0-2 (Totals: 17-1-26-63)