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February 1, 2014

Devils post double victory over Valdosta

TIFTON — The Tift County Blue Devils closed out their home regular season with a bang Saturday night over the Valdosta Wildcats. The Devils were able to hang on to a big early lead for a 77-63 victory and the Tift girls took a 57-49 decision after falling behind in the 3rd.

Valdosta's Rashad Lewis had trouble hitting the mark early, but had found his groove by the middle of the 3rd. He personally accounted for 13 of Valdosta's points during an 18-5 run that took the game to its final stanza with Tift leading 47-43.

He also had a hand in putting the game back in Tift's hands. Following a steal early in the 4th, Tadric Jackson caught a pass and was on his way to a layup when he was fouled. The officials ruled it to be flagrant, then Lewis was called for a technical as the officials moved to separate players.

With D.J. Bryant shooting the tech shots and a 3-pointer by Tadric Jackson, the Devils boosted their lead back to nine and were on solid footing the rest of the way. The 'Cats got as close as six in the final 3:30, but with Tadric Jackson scoring at will and free throws from Preston Horne, they were never in danger.

Tyrie Jackson put the period on the end of the 1st. With the Devils dominating, he kept his eye on the clock and with but a second to spare, connected on a 3 that gave them an early 18-5 lead.

The 'Cats came crashing back in the 2nd. Despite Lewis' struggles, the team was able to stay in the game and even hold the Devils to nine in the frame and make it a more reasonable 27-16 at intermission. Bryant had a pair of triples in the 3rd and Tadric Jackson had six before the visitors began their comeback.

Lewis was top scorer for both squads with 27. Tadric Jackson had 25. Horne had 18 points, Bryant 12, and Tyrie Jackson 10. Barrett contributed 12 for Valdosta.

It seemed that momentum had escaped the Lady Devils again. Though only one second remained on the clock in the 3rd quarter, they were inbounding the ball and down by two. But they could not even get a shot off as the pass sailed high. Seven seconds earlier Alexis Johnson had missed a pair of free throws that also would have tied the game.

The 4th, however, started with a steal and Tatianya Smith at the line to shoot a pair of free throws. She hit one to make it 37-36 and a minute later, Johnson tied the game with another charity shot. Sixteen seconds later, Johnson gave them the lead and when they needed to pad it, Staceyanna Murrell grabbed two offensive rebounds during one possession. She was fouled after the second one, as the ball went into the basket.

Johnson would score four straight points and all of a sudden, it was Tift County up 47-38.

A stunned Valdosta finally did score again, but the Lady Devils enacted their plan to manipulate the clock. Shooting only wide-open layups, Sky Moore and Brecklyn Greene scored before the visitors began sending them to the line.

Tiaera Phillips and Desinee Arnold gave Valdosta a 15-9 lead after one quarter. Baskets by Johnson and Audrey McElheney gave Tift the lead late in the 2nd and they were up 21-20 at halftime.

Murrell upped that lead to five in the 3rd, but Arnold tied it back up at 4:45 and Shyla Griffin expanded it to five when Johnson hit a shot from behind the arc.

Johnson was Tift's leader with 16 points. Murrell added 14 and Greene and McElheney each had 9. Arnold had 15 and Phillips 13.

Only two regular season games remain. Friday, they play at Colquitt County and Saturday will be a trip to Valdosta for a return game with the 'Cats.

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