The Tift County Blue Devils had a formidable challenge Monday.The Blue Devils were facing a Saint Anthony’s (N.J.) Friars’ squad that had won 77 games in a row, and is ranked as high as seventh in some national polls this season.
On top of that, the game was being played at Springfield College in Massachusetts in the shadows of the Basketball Hall of Fame as a part of the HoopHall Classic. So far from home, Tift was without its’ normal frantic fanbase.
Even with all of that against them, Tift led by as many as five points in the fourth quarter, and held a three-point lead 54-51 on a Donell Tuff dunk with 2:37 left in the game. However, Saint Anthony’s would come storming back and would outscore Tift 9-0 after the Tuff dunk. The final result was a 60-54 win for the Friars.
It was only the ninth time that a team only lost by single digits to the Friars in the team’s now-78 game winning Donell, which began March 10, 2010.
“We had a defensive breakdown late in the game and it cost us,” said Tift Head Coach Dr. Eric Holland. “I feel like we should have won.”
Even though the Devils could not pull out the win, Holland said the invitation to the even was a great moment for the Tift County High program.
“It was a great opportunity for our program. This is a very prestigious event, and they pay for everything, and it was first class all the way,” said Holland. “We had great treatment from the plane ride up, the bus ride to the hotel, to the hotel itself. And all of the preparations for the game today was first-class all the way.
“We also got to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame, which these kids will never forget. It was an awesome experience all the way around, and I feel like our team also got closer as a family. It was a good bonding experience.”
One person that really enjoyed the experience was Tuff.
While the nationally-known players for the Devils are Brannen Greene, who has already signed with Kansas University, and Tadric Jackson, who is being recruited for several Southeastern and Atlantic Coast Conference schools, Tuff showed his mettle in Monday’s national spotlight.
The senior led all scorers in the game against Saint Anthony’s with 17 points. He also had seven rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals. For his performance, Tuff received a plaque as the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“I had several college coaches come up to me after the game, and gave me their cards, and asked about Donell.He had an outstanding game today,” said Holland.
Greene ended the game with 14 points, five rebounds, two blocks, one assist and one steal. Jackson added 13 points, nine assists, six steals and one rebound.
D.J. Bryant also contributed eight points to the Tift cause.
The Tift County Blue Devils and Lady Devils will be back in action Friday night at Brunswick High.
“We have to come back and get ready for the region schedule,” said Holland.
Photos/Richard Orr/Basketball Hall of Fame