The Tift County Blue Devils are good. They are real good.
The Blue Devils, who improved to 8-1 in Region 1-AAAAAA, flexed their muscle Friday night, routing the Lowndes High Vikings 80-51 at the Charles Cooper Memorial Gymnasium in Valdosta.
"They're a team and they play as a team," Lowndes boys' head coach Kingston Clark said, of Tift County. "They just came out with a vengeance. We didn't have an answer. We couldn't put any points onto the board. We'd get one shot, they would come down and get a layup."
The Blue Devils' rout of the Vikings followed up the Tift County girls' 50-43 win over the Lowndes Vikettes earlier in the night.
Tift County will host Valdosta tonight in Tifton.
Leading by nine points early in the third quarter, Tift County used a commanding 18-0 run to pull away and never look back. The Blue Devils' run was led by Kansas signee Brannan Greene, a tall 6-foot-7 senior transfer, who scored nine of the 18 points during the run.
"They never looked back after that (run)," Clark said. "We just couldn't get it together tonight."
Greene finished with a team-high 19 points, despite sitting the closing minutes of the third quarter and the majority of the fourth quarter. Junior Tadric Jackson also finished with 19 points for the Blue Devils.
Jackson started the run for Tift County by converting a free throw. He followed it up with a slam dunk before Greene scored seven straight points to push the score to 45-26. After another Tift County basket, Jackson added a layup, which was followed by another Greene basket.
Jackson then finished with seven points in the fourth quarter.
After starting the run up nine, 35-26, the Blue Devils found themselves in front 53-26 coming off the run, which ended when Lowndes' Justin Williams jumper with 1:47 remaining in the third.
Tift County's lead got to as many as 27 at the end of the third quarter and 30 points in the fourth quarter, coming when Jackson drained a 3-pointer over Williams with 6:01 remaining.
At the start, Lowndes looked like it was ready to go toe-to-toe with the mighty Blue Devils. After nearly every Tift County field goal to start the game, the Vikings responded with their own and managed to keep the score tied at 8-8 midway through the opening quarter.
From there, Tift County used an 10-3 run to close out the first quarter, using baskets from four different players on the floor, including Greene and Jackson.
In the second quarter, Tift County was held scoreless for over three minutes, allowing Lowndes to close within three, 18-15. But, the Blue Devils eventually found their stroke from the floor, and the free throw line.
After Lowndes closed within three, Tift County outscored Lowndes 14-6 to close out the quarter, securing a 32-21 lead at the half.
Alan Urritia finished with a team-high 14 points for Lowndes, while Eric Henderson contributed with 13.
Tift Co. girls 50, Lowndes 43
The Tift County Lady Devils will enter today’s Region 1-6A showdown with Valdosta unscathed in region play, following Friday night’s 50-43 win over the Lowndes Vikettes.
Tift County never trailed and built a lead as large as 13 points over the Vikettes to improve to 9-0 in region play.
Despite 20 points, 17 rebounds and five rebounds from junior Tashia Brown, the Vikettes were limited by the suffocating Tift County press and struggled to connect from the floor.
Lowndes’ struggles were magnified in the first quarter when Tift County raced out to a 12-0 lead. The Vikettes’ first field goal of the night didn’t come until the 1:50 mark of the first quarter, when Brown connected on a jumper and followed it up with a free throw on the following possession.
Trailing 16-3 at the end of the first quarter, the Vikettes cut into Tift County’s lead and closed within nine, 22-13, at the half.
In the third quarter, Lowndes and Tift County swapped more than field goals. The two schools also swapped fouls. By the end of the quarter, Lowndes managed to cut into the deficit and close within eight.
The Lady Devils began the fourth quarter with a 6-0 run, extending their lead to 14 (40-26), before Brown took over for the Vikettes.
Brown scored nine straight points and brought the Vikettes back within five, 40-35, the smallest margin since the first quarter.
Tift responded like the region's top team as the Lady Devils responded and outscored Lowndes 10-8 across the final 4 1/2 minutes to secure the win.
Dee Dee Deshazer finished with 15 points for Tift County, while Alexis Johnson and Dorian Jordan each finished with 12.
The Tift County Blue Devils are good. They are real good.
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Dr. Eric Holland and the Tift County Blue Devils were undecided earlier this week on a hotel room in Macon. One might not be needed. They might have been able to simply float home. The final game of the 2013-14 season was played Saturday night at the Macon Centreplex and it ended with a No. 1 team crowned in Class AAAAAA. Ten years after their last championship game appearance and 18 since their one and only title, the Blue Devils added a second to the trophy case, defeating the Wheeler Wildcats, 63-49.
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Dr. Eric Holland does not have the jitters. His Tift County Blue Devils are individually playing in their first state basketball championship game Saturday night at 8:45 p.m. at the Macon Centreplex against the Wheeler Wildcats. For him, this is old hat.
"I'm excited like always, but never nervous," he said. He believes the team will follow his example. "Our preparation has been good and our emotions are intact. This is the most focused I've seen them."
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As the Tift County Blue Devils prepare to play for the Class AAAAAA state basketball championship this Saturday in Macon against Wheeler, I began to think about the last time the Devils played for a state title.
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