Tifton Gazette

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February 25, 2014

Tift survives Lovejoy's comeback

TIFTON — After three quarters of play Tuesday night, the Tift County Blue Devils had a comfortable 16-point lead on the visiting Lovejoy Wildcats. At the end of the 4th, the scoreboard reflected little of that, instead showing a thin 60-57 victory for the home team.

By besting the Wildcats, Tift (26-3) has entered the Class AAAAAA's elite eight for the second straight year.

The Blue Devils looked to have the win wrapped up several times several times over the course of a final quarter that started out as 44-28, but they had one major problem. Lovejoy just did not want to go away.

A dunk by Tift’s Preston Horne with 51 seconds left gave them a 7-point lead. Jahir Cabeza knocked down a 3-pointer to cut it to four at 40 seconds. D.J. Bryant made both free throws to bring it back to six, but then it was Jaquez Carter who stepped behind the arc to drain another one with six seconds left.

Clinging to a 60-57 lead, Tadric Jackson missed two free throws with three seconds left. Fortunately with a rebound to grab a whole floor to go, Lovejoy barely had time for Marlon Currington to attempt a shot. It sailed wide left, allowing the Devils to escape.

The 16-point lead was the largest all game for the Devils, but they had a double-digit cushion for nearly the whole game.

Ladarius Stewart hit a layup a minute into the contest, but neither team had a knack for putting the ball in the basket for most of the 1st. Lovejoy got a triple from Currington at 4:15, but it would be their only points until the 2nd. Tift managed to make 13 in the same span.

Scoring picked up in the 2nd for the 'Cats, who launched a quick rally and found themselves only down by a point at four minutes.

A quick timeout by Dr. Eric Holland settled the Devils back down and soon they were up by 10 again, when Jackson drained a 3-point shot near the end of the quarter. Lovejoy attempted to hold the ball for a final shot, but that would go awry when they were whistled for an offensive foul, leaving the halftime score 26-16.

Lovejoy had another brief surge in the 3rd with a 7-3 run, but thanks to Jackson, Bryant and Stewart, they were down by 13 when it started. Tift went on a run of their own to end the period, highlighted by Stewart popping back up after a hard foul to make a pair of free throws and a nice defensive stand to run out the clock. The Wildcats had 20 seconds to score, but the Devils clamped down to ensure that three shots under the goal did not make it in.

Jackson never did manage to take over the game to the extent he had against Tri-Cities, but still led all scorers by a comfortable margin. He had 21 points, with Stewart adding 15, Bryant 11 and Horne 8.

The defensive pressure meant that Lovejoy did not have any go-to scorers during the game. Currington finished with 12 and Cabeza had 11.

The Blue Devils will next face Hillgrove at home in their quarterfinals game Thursday, according to Score Atlanta, which posted that Hillgrove beat Douglas County 72-71. Tickets will be on sale at both Tift County High and Eighth Street Middle for $7.

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