Great game doesn't have great finish for Tigers
By By BRUCE HIXON – Sports Editor
If, as expected, Monday's meeting was the last between the T.R. Miller Tigers and the Clarke County Bulldogs for the foreseeable future, the teams gave those in attendance a game to remember for a long time.
T.R. Miller's memories of the game will not be as pleasant as Clarke County's after the Bulldogs claimed a thrilling 64-60 overtime win in the Class 3A Area 1 Tournament championship game.
The Tigers (18-11) had won three straight Area tournament titles, each of which came at the Bulldogs expense in the championship game. Clarke County also snapped a string of nine straight T.R. Miller victories this season. The Bulldogs, who beat the Tigers for the third time this season, were also the last team to beat T.R. Miller prior to Monday with a 55-48 win at Brewton last month.
Clarke County sophomore guard DeForest Taite made sure the Tigers will not forget him anytime soon, as he drained seven three-pointers and scored a game high 25 points.
Taite almost single-handedly changed the game around with six treys in the second half. Five of those came in the third quarter when the Bulldogs went on a 23-8 tear and wiped out what had been a five-point T.R. Miller halftime lead.
T.R. Miller turned in a memorable performance just to get the game into overtime. Thanks largely to Taite's eruption from the perimeter, Clarke County (27-6 and ranked seventh in Class 3A) had a 46-34 lead with 5:20 left and the Tigers were still down 50-42 with 1:32 left.
Junior Wade Jackson gave the Tigers a chance when he scored seven points on two possessions. Jackson banked in a three-pointer despite the fact he was knocked to the floor on a foul by Trent Williams. Jackson connected on the free throw attempt and the four-point play cut the lead in half.
After Clarke County's DeWayne Owens missed a pair of free throws as part of a string of six straight misses overall in the fourth quarter, Jackson drove to the basket, scored again and was fouled again. Jackson converted once again
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from the free throw line and suddenly the Bulldogs' lead was down to just 50-49 with 1:05 left.
The Tigers still needed some breaks and some more heroics to get the game to overtime.
Owens was fouled again and after he missed his sixth straight charity toss on the front end, he finally made a shot with the second attempt to make it 51-49 with 44 seconds left.
After the Tigers came up empty on the offensive end, Justin Burroughs was fouled and hit one of two free throws with 30 seconds left to stretch the lead to 52-49.
The two T.R. Miller fouls in the last minute of regulation were costly, as first Brandon Andrews and then Jackson picked up their fifth fouls. Those actions deprived the Tigers of two of their better perimeter shooters, but T.R. Miller still had an ace up its sleeve. Sophomore Jordan Knight, who racked up a team high 21 points, nailed a three-pointer despite double coverage to tie the game with 11 seconds left.
Taite showed he was actually human when he missed a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer that sent the game into overtime.
The way the game had swung in T.R. Miller's favor, the Tigers probably could have used a few more seconds of regulation instead of four more minutes of overtime.
Clarke County regained the lead in the opening minute of overtime when Kenneth Kimbrough scored off an assist from Owens. The Bulldogs doubled that lead to four points, 60-56, 18 seconds later when Ben Burroughs hit a pair of free throws.
Terrelle Brooks shaved Clarke County's lead in half when he scored off an offensive rebound and was fouled. When Brooks missed the free throw, it set up probably the key sequence of overtime.
Brooks took the attempt with 2:45 on the clock and the Bulldogs quickly grabbed the rebound. T.R. Miller applied full-court pressure and the Bulldogs called a time-out before they could cross the center line to avoid a 10-second call. By this time, the clock was down to 2:32, 13 seconds after the Bulldogs took possession.
The no-call loomed even larger when Taite followed up his own miss with a three-pointer to make it 59-54 with two minutes left.
A bucket by Kelly Stallworth and two free throws by Ben Burroughs over the next minute offset each other and kept the Bulldogs' lead at five points, 61-56.
Much like late in regulation although in different fashion, T.R. Miller got a new leash on life with the equivalent of another four-point play. First, Brooks drove to the bucket, scored and was fouled. Although Brooks missed the free throw, Jordan Knight grabbed the rebound. Knight fell to the floor, but as he did he flipped the ball to Brooks who scored again to make it 61-60 with 45 seconds left.
T.R. Miller had a chance to take the lead after it forced the Bulldogs into a turnover, but the Tigers gave the ball right back on an over-and-back violation.
That made the Tigers resort to fouling and the Bulldogs first got a free throw by Justin Burroughs and another one by Taite in a five-second span that took the lead up to 63-60 with 21 seconds left.
This time there would be no three-point shot heroics, as the Tigers missed two attempts in the final dozen seconds. After the second miss, Taite was fouled with three seconds left and he iced the win with a free throw.
T.R. Miller had put itself in good position with a solid first half. The Tigers took an 11-4 lead in the first four minutes on a trey by Andrews, two buckets by Jordan Knight and single field goals by Brooks and Laine Lucas. T.R. Miller hit seven of its first 10 shots in the opening quarter and had a 15-12 lead at the end of the quarter.
Although the Tigers cooled off after their quick start, they got buckets by Jordan Knight and Jackson in the first two minutes of the second quarter to take a 19-12 lead.
Although the Tigers managed only four more points the rest of the quarter, both on field goals by Jordan Knight, Clarke County was able to reduce that lead to only 23-18 by halftime.
While the loss to Clarke County does not end T.R. Miller's season, it does put it the Tigers in a dubious position for Friday's 7 p.m. sub-regional round. T.R. Miller has to play at Sumter County against the
two-time defending Class 3A state champions and the top-ranked team in Class 3A this season.
Sumter County (24-1) survived a scare to win the Area 6 Tournament Monday with a 66-62 victory over Aliceville. Aliceville will now travel to Clarke County in its sub-regional bracket. Friday's winners will advance to next week's regional tournament to be played at the University of South Alabama at Mobile.
At Clarke County
T.R. Miller 15 8 8 21 8 – 60
Clarke Co. 12 6 23 11 12 – 64
T.R. MILLER (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) Jo. Knight 9-1-0-21; Jackson 4-2-2-16; Brooks 6-0-0-12; Andrews 2-1-0-7; Lucas 1-0-0-2; Stallworth 1-0-0-2 (Totals: 23-4-2-60)
CLARKE COUNTY (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) Taite 0-7-4-25; J. Burroughs 6-1-2-17; B. Burroughs 1-2-5-13; Owens 1-0-3-5; Kimbrough 2-0-0-4 (Totals: 10-10-14-64)