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Tigers fall in postseason tune-up

By By BRUCE HIXON – Sports Editor
Finding a way to beat Marianna (Fla.) was the immediate challenge T.R. Miller Tigers coach Rob Atkinson wanted his team to tackle.
While the Tigers came up on the short end of the 46-39 decision to the Bulldogs at Saturday's Santa Rosa Shoot-out play at Milton (Fla.) High School, the Tigers skipper said the game had a much more down-the-road purpose.
If it advances past the Area Tournament round, T.R. Miller would likely see Sumter County (ranked number one in the state in Class 3A) or Francis Marion (ranked third in the state) in the sub-regional round.
Despite the fact Marianna (8-2) has been one of the top teams in the Florida panhandle so far this season, the Tigers were for the most part able to match the Bulldogs blow for blow.
The first quarter featured six lead changes although the last swing to Marianna's side was one the Bulldogs would not relinquish.
The last T.R. Miller lead came with a minute and a half left in the opening frame when Terrence Walker's charity toss put the Tigers (5-4) up 10-9.
Marianna closed out the quarter with buckets by C.J. Johnson and Brandon Gibson and moved permanently in front 13-10.
Four buckets by Johnson, Marianna's 6-5 center, in the first five minutes of the second quarter extended the Bulldogs' lead up to a first half high of 23-14. Johnson gave the Tigers fits all day long with both his size and jumping ability, as he posted 14 first half points and 22 for the game.
Despite Johnson's production, T.R. Miller was able to stay within striking distance. An offensive rebound bucket by Jordan Knight and a basket by Wade Jackson in the final two minutes of the first half trimmed Marianna's lead to 23-18.
The Bulldogs would keep their advantage in the five to nine points range the entire third quarter. It got up to as high as 29-20 when Gibson drained a three-pointer with five minutes left in the frame. It dropped back down to five on three occasions. The last came with 47 seconds left in the period when a charity toss by Jackson made it 32-27.
One of the biggest turning points of the game came in the waning moments of the third quarter. With T.R. Miller down that 32-27 margin, the Tigers had the ball and a chance to pull within three or even two points with a trey.
Instead as time was about to wind down Marianna's Jeremy Berkley stole the ball and went the distance for a layup on the other end to knock the lead up to 34-27.
Despite that miscue, the Tigers were still able to battle back in the fourth quarter and nearly overcame the Bulldogs.
A basket by Laine Lucas, a pair of field goals by Jordan Knight and an offensive rebound bucket by Jackson brought T.R. Miller to within a point at 36-35 with four minutes left.
Despite that surge, the Tigers also had their share of problems in the fourth quarter. One was at the free throw line where they missed all four attempts including the front end of two one-and-ones. T.R. Miller was only four-for-10 in that area for the game.
The other area was ball control. T.R. Miller had seven fourth quarter turnovers. The biggest came with two and a half minutes left when Marianna had a 38-35 lead. The Bulldogs came up with a steal that led to a dunk and three-point play by Johnson.
That knocked the lead up to 41-35 and three free throws over the next minute by Jeffrey Bowers made it a nine-point lead of 44-35.
The Tigers will take part in the Oxford Tournament later this week, as they face Etowah Thursday at 4:30 p.m. and Oxford Friday at 7:30 p.m.
At Milton
Marianna 13 10 11 12 – 46
T.R. Miller 10 8 9 12 – 39
MARIANNA (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) Johnson 10-0-2-22; Gibson 3-1-0-9; Bell 0-1-1-4; Bowers 0-0-4-4; Howard 0-1-0-3; Baker 1-0-0-2; Berkley 1-0-0-2 (Totals: 15-3-7-46)
T.R. MILLER (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) Jackson 7-0-1-15; Jo. Knight 6-0-0-12; Lucas 2-0-0-4; Andrews 0-1-0-3; Brooks 0-0-2-2; Je. Knight 1-0-0-2; Walker 0-0-1-1 (Totals: 16-1-4-39)