WARNER ROBINS -- The frustration already was starting to show on the faces of many of Warner Robins Demons as head coach Jamaal Garman called timeout with his team trailing by 11 early in the second quarter in Tuesday nights GHSA Class AAAAA second-round matchup against Effingham County.
Effingham Countys fans were into the game as their team stretched its lead to 15 on a Tanner Reid steal and basket.
But the Demons (24-2) weathered the storm and retaliated with a vengeance, outscoring the Rebels by nine through the rest of the quarter and then by 13 in the third quarter to take a 53-49 win. The Demons advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2000 behind the play of Marquez Callaway, who had 23 points, including 16 in the second half.
The Demons will host Bainbridge on Thursday.
Thats how we have been all year, said Callaway, who hit 9-of-11 free throws in the game. We have been a great second-half team, and we knew what we had to do. My team gives me great opportunities to score, and I was able to make it work. No way we were ready to quit playing basketball, and I cant wait to play at home one more time.
Effingham County has the superstar in JaKeenan Gant, who has signed to play at Missouri, and he certainly showed signs of his talent. He keyed the early run by Effingham County, scoring six points, grabbing five rebounds and blocking three shots during that run. But he struggled offensively the entire night and ended with only eight points to go with 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
He went scoreless in the third quarter while Callaway exploded for 10 points in the quarter. The Demons defense forced 10 turnovers in the quarter and caught Effingham County at 32 on a three-point play by Callaway. Seconds later, Nathan Curtis came up with a steal at midcourt, took off and delivered a thunderous dunk to give the Demons a lead they never lost.
It was a great feeling to get the lead back, and it shows what kind of team this is because we never quit when we were down, said Curtis, who finished with nine points and nine rebounds. Effingham knocked us out of the state tournament last year and beat us by 30, so we felt like we had something to prove.
Effingham County did make a run late with Reid scoring seven of his 14 points to cut the Demons lead to 50-49 with 45 seconds left. But that was the closest they got as Callaway came through at the line, hitting 3-of-4 in the final 30 seconds to seal the win.
If you would have told me we would hold (Gant) to eight points, I would have said no way, Garman said. This is a tremendous win for the program, and it was a great effort by this team on a great player. The crowd in our gym was unbelievable, and I think it gives us the best home-court advantage in the state.