State's top 3A team survives Tigers best shot
By By BRUCE HIXON – Sports Editor
At times they made the Sumter County Wildcats teeter and other times they made them totter, but the T.R. Miller Tigers could never get them down for the count.
Instead the state's top-ranked team in Class 3A and two-time defending state champion escaped a big scare with a 29-21 victory over the visiting Tigers in Friday's sub-regional round game.
Although T.R. Miller (18-12) never led in the game, the Tigers were within a possession of catching or passing the Wildcats (24-1) most of the game until the final 30 seconds.
T.R. Miller was nearly able to pull off the monumental upset by slowing the tempo way, way down.
The Tigers did not really get into their stall game until after the first quarter. One-third of the 24 shots T.R. Miller took in the game (eight) came in the first quarter. The Tigers put themselves in a bit of a precarious situation by missing the first six of those shots before Wade Jackson drained a three-pointer with 2:50 left in the first quarter. Those were the only points T.R. Miller scored the entire frame.
Sumter County failed to take full advantage of the Tigers' slow start with one of its own although the Wildcats opened the game with 5-0 lead on a field goal and two free throws by Larry Foster and another charity toss by Patrick DeLaine.
The Wildcats, who led 7-3 after the first quarter, stretched their lead to a first half high six points in the opening moments of the second quarter went an offensive rebound bucket by Codarro Law made it 9-3.
T.R. Miller still had a six-point deficit at 11-5 three minutes into the quarter when a three-point play by Kelly Stallworth cut Sumter County's lead in half to 11-8.
After a hoop by Law put the Wildcats advantage at 13-8, T.R. Miller ended the half with buckets by Jordan Knight and Laine Lucas to pull within 13-12 at the midway point.
The pace of the game slowed to a near crawl in the third quarter, as T.R. Miller attempted just three shots and Sumter County had five. The Wildcats, who stretched their lead to 15-12 after an offensive rebound bucket by DeLaine, seemed content to let the Tigers hold the ball.
Jordan Knight caught the Wildcats' defense napping with four minuets left in the period when he drove the basket and scored to make it 15-14, but the Wildcats got those points back two and a half minutes later when Cameron Wilson hit two free throws to make it 17-14.
T.R. Miller got over a big hump with 50 seconds left in the quarter when Jackson buried a three-pointer to tie the game at 17-17, the first and only occasion where the Tigers got even.
Foster, last year's 3A state tournament most valuable player, delivered a damaging blow when he matched that three-pointer just before the horn sounded to put Sumter County back in front 20-17.
If that shot was not damaging enough, a bucket by Law in the first minute of the fourth quarter that took the lead up to 22-17 was.
The Tigers stayed with their game plan. Even though more than five minutes passed before T.R. Miller scored, its game of keep away kept Sumter County off the scoreboard as well.
A bucket by Lucas with 2:35 left broke the ice and brought T.R. Miller to within 22-19. Then Jordan Knight came up with a steal and that led to another bucket by Lucas with 1:16 left that cut the gap to 22-21.
The Tigers were still down that one point with 44 seconds left when they went to the foul plan. The Wildcats, who were just three-for-six from the free throw line through three quarters, picked the right time to get hot. Sumter County hit nine of 10 free throws over the final 44 seconds to seal the win.
Wilson hit two with 44 seconds left that made it 24-21, but the most damaging play followed when the Wildcats stole an inbounds pass with 35 seconds left. Wilson was fouled with 27 seconds left and hit two more charity tosses to make it a two-possession lead of 26-21.
In between three straight missed three-point shots by T.R. Miller, Sumter County got two more charity tosses by Foster and one by Ezell to make it a misleading eight-point margin.
The win sends the Wildcats into Wednesday's Southwest Regional semifinal round where they will meet Leeds. Clarke County, which beat T.R. Miller in overtime to win the Area 1 Tournament Monday, will face Midfield in the other semifinal.
The Tigers return all but one player next season.
At Sumter County
T.R. Miller 3 9 5 4 – 21
Sumter County 7 6 7 9 – 29
T.R. MILLER (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) Jackson 0-2-0-6; Lucas 3-0-0-6; Stallworth 2-0-1-5; Jo. Knight 2-0-0-4 (Totals: 7-2-1-21)
SUMTER COUNTY (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) Foster 2-1-4-11; Wilson 0-0-6-6; Law 3-0-0-6; DeLaine 1-0-1-3; Ezell 1-0-1-3 (Totals: 7-1-12-29)