As Upson-Lee’s players decompressed after Friday’s GHSA Region 2-4A Tournament title game, music blared from inside the Knights’ locker room.
Upson-Lee continues to make a lot of noise on the court as well. The Knights pulled away as the second half went on against Mary Persons (17-9), winning 84-65 to capture the region crown and run their record to 27-0.
Both teams will host in the first round of the Class 4A Tournament on either Friday or Saturday against a team from Region 4-4A.
The first half was an offensive showcase, with both teams combining to drain 14 shots from behind the 3-point line and the Knights leading 45-42 at the break.
Upson-Lee shifted its defense, putting more pressure on the outside to slow Mary Persons down from the perimeter, holding them to zero 3-pointers and two field goals overall in the third quarter.
“We play that way, so we just felt like we could play that way with them,” Mary Persons head coach Greg Nix said. “In the second half, we didn’t shoot it as well as they were executing, and the next thing you know, you’re down 11.”
But there wasn’t any slowing down of Upson Lee’s Zyrice Scott, who nailed six 3-pointers and scored 27 points, making shots from all over of the offensive end of the floor.
“He hit some incredible shots,” Nix said. “That’s the game-changer. We hadn’t seen him do that.”
Tye Fagan was also hard to stop, hitting up Mary Persons for 30 points.
Two of those shots more or less blew the game open in the third quarter, coming on back-to-back trips down the floor to turn a 50-47 Mary Persons deficit to 56-47 within 30 seconds of play. Mary Persons didn’t get within a possession of tying the game for the rest of the game.
“We shifted our focus a little bit toward to perimeter to try and cut down on some of those threes, and it seemed to work,” Upson-Lee head coach Darrell Lockhart said.
The Bulldogs hung right with the Knights for a half, going toe-to-toe with their outside shooting to feeding off an energetic crowd on both sides of Evans Gymnasium on Friday.
Cam Holden played a major role as expected, with shooting from the outside paving the way to scoring 20 points. But as was the case for the rest of the his teammates, the pace was slowed down in the second half, where all but four of his points came at the free-throw line.
Spalding 54 (girls), Perry 37
Perry and Spalding split both regular season games between the teams. And that parity played out for a half with the score being tied at 23 when the teams headed to the locker room after the second quarter.
But foul trouble disrupted Perry defensively, with two of their starters picking up three fouls in the first half. With the Panthers (22-5) playing more cautious, the door was flung open for Spalding, and the Jaguars (20-6) took the opportunity and ran with it, putting the game away on a 9-2 run to start the fourth quarter.
KK Smith’s 18 points led the Panthers.
Perry being unable to be as aggressive on defense played right into the hands of guard Aniaya Jester, whose dribble driving toward the basket time after time again was unable to be answered by the Panthers. She finished with 26 points, pouring in 14 of them in the fourth quarter.
“That made them passive. I always talk to the girls about keeping that gate closed. Once they opened that gate, things changed,” Perry head coach Reginald West said. “That kind of got us out of our rhythm and we never could get back in our rhythm and they just kept dribble driving.”
Perry will now look to bounce back in the Class 4A Tournament where it’s assured of at least a first-round game.
West Laurens (girls) 59, Upson-Lee 57 (OT)
Jakeera Wilbur’s monster night of 24 points included clutch shooting from the charity stripe. She was 6-of-8 from the free-throw line in overtime. On the other end of the free-throw line spectrum, however, the Knights were 14-of-35 in a game in which they fought back from being down by seven points to force overtime.
Perry (boys) 80, Howard 54
The Panthers (20-8) atoned for Wednesday’s semifinal round loss to Mary Persons with an explosive start to the second half, outscoring Howard 29-15 to blow the game wide open.
Jecory Burks got hot in the second half, scoring 17 of his 21 points following halftime. Perry was also led by 15 points from Jake Smith and Damion Bagley’s 11.
For the Huskies (8-18), Jaylan Parker and Brandon Stewart each had 11 points.