The Northeast Raiders didnt have their best night Friday, and their Saturday wasnt shaping up much better.
Less than 24 hours after losing a crucial GHSA Region 4-AA game to Crawford County, the Raiders found themselves trailing Central by 16 points on the road midway through the third quarter.
But the Raiders players know these rivalry games -- particularly the ones matching up the top Macon teams -- can play out like a rollercoaster ride.
We played selfish in the first half and had to come out and play like a team, senior Wycolvian Early said. We were fired up.
Early made the go-ahead basket on a turnaround one-hander with 33 seconds left and made a pair of free throws 20 seconds later to cap a furious rally and push the Raiders to a 66-65 non-region win and season sweep of the rival Chargers.
Early led Northeast with 19 points, while Chris Spencer added 10. Charquez Jackson led three Central players in double figures with 15 points, while Kentrevious Jones added 12.
Earlys basket gave the Raiders (15-7) their first lead of the second half and erased a 16-point deficit in the final 12 minutes of the game. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a crucial putback off a missed free throw with 1:25 left to cut Centrals lead to three points. After Centrals Dontrell Jackson made a pair of free throws, DeVondrae Little and Randy Harpe scored in quick succession to pull the Raiders to within a point.
The Chargers (17-6) turned the ball over on a double dribble, setting the stage for Earlys game-winning basket.
Jackson scored with 0.3 seconds left to pull the Chargers within a point.
We just said, Keep putting pressure on them and dont quit, said Northeast head coach Kevin Grooms, a former Central assistant coach.
Both teams operated at a frenetic pace for the first quarter and a half of the game. There were six ties and lead changes in the first quarter and five lead changes in the first two minutes of the second quarter.
But Central started to pull away with a 19-4 run, and Northeast managed only two field goals during a near nine-minute span during the second and third quarters.
The Raiders started their rally with three minutes left in the third quarter, with a 3-pointer by Spencer launching a 12-1 run to close the third quarter. A 16-point deficit was knocked down to five entering the fourth quarter.
Weve shown this year we cannot handle leads, Central head coach Andre Taylor said. For some reason, they relax ... I told them before we came out (of halftime), You know Northeast isnt just going to lay down because youre up 16 points. Theyre going to come back and fight.
Its a little too late in the season to have growing pains.
Central still led by 10 with 3:30 to play, but the Chargers made just one field goal the rest of game before Jacksons basket with 0.3 seconds to play.
JarFaith Jones scored a career-high 35 points and pulled down 20 rebounds to lead the Central girls to a 60-38 win.
Northeast couldnt keep Jones off the glass, giving up nine offensive rebounds alone to the Chargers center. While Jones did nearly all of her damage from the paint and the foul line, she did drain a 3-pointer in the waning moments to put a stamp on the victory.