TIFTON - Tift County's Lady Devils were knocked from the unbeatens, but the Blue Devils won a thrilled in Friday night's series with Lowndes.
Pressure on an inbounds pass led to a steal, which gave way to a big dunk by Jatarion Warren with 1:03 remaining, turning the tide in what was ultimately a 45-42 victory. The Lady Devils only briefly got going in a 46-33 loss.
Warren's dunk did not just give Tift County a lead Friday, it completely changed the course of the game.
Tift had a three-point lead at 2:10, but after missing two opportunities to expand that, saw it slip away completely at 1:29 when J.J. Williams came up with a layup after a steal on the other end.
The Devils had a pass go out of bounds on the next possession and Lowndes inbounded in the backcourt. A swarming Tift defense not only jarred the ball loose, they came up with a steal and save. A flash pass to a cutting Warren not only saw him throw down the dunk, but be fouled in the process. Warren made the free throw.
Lowndes' lead was now a deficit.
The Vikings weren't able to get off a shot in their next possession. The ball was fumbled into Deyonte Dean's hands and Tift held on until they called a time out with 36 seconds remaining.
Tift's inbounds was nearly as troubled as the Vikings'. The Devils turned the ball over when the inbounds man moved on the baseline. Lowndes called its own time out with 33 seconds left. Once back in, the visitors made their strategy clear: Play for the last shot.
Lowndes shot a three-pointer with four seconds on the clock. It bounced off the rim to Tyler Parker, who was fouled with 0:00.9 on the clock. Parker made an insurance free throw. Lowndes attempted a Hail Mary pass for a quick shot, but it bounced off a Viking out-of-bounds.
Jyamier Beckhom sank the first shot of the game, but Lowndes scored the next six. Jayvonn Hutchinson had four of those on one play. Hutchinson hit a three near the top of the key and was fouled in the process. He sank the bonus shot as well.
Warren picked up two quick fouls in the contest, sending him to the bench, and giving the Vikings better chances at both ends of the court. They led 11-7 at the end of the quarter.
Tift scored the first two of the second, a Warren bucket, but soon found themselves doubled. Williams four points off layups and JaQuan Walton sank a three-pointer to go ahead 18-9 at 4:48.
Dean tipped in an offensive foul and Warren let loose a one-handed dunk on an offensive rebound, but the Devils made little headway. Walton's three at 1:45 was the last score of the half and gave the Vikings a 23-15 advantage.
The second half was much different than the first.
"They did a great job," said BLue Devils head coach Tommy Blackshear of Lowndes. "They were extremely physical." So much so that Blackshear told his players at halftime they would have to match that. "I challenged them," he said, "and they responded."
Beckhom and Warren combined for five points in the first 100 seconds and Lowndes was looking at trouble. Both DeAunte Hunter and J.C. Riley picked up their fourth foul.
Warren assisted Beckhom, then dunked again after Torrance Galmer came up with a steal and assist. Tift led at 24-23. The run extended to 10 straight points before Williams made a free throw. It was Lowndes' first point in six minutes.
Parker's jumper with 31 seconds in the third gave Tift its biggest lead at 32-27. The game was tense the rest of the way.
"We had a heck of a third quarter," Blackshear said.
Riley and Hunter fouled out early in the fourth. The Devils were looking at their own foul troubles. Beckhom had picked up his fourth and Warren soon did the same. The teams continued, even with the big names missing.
Walton got Lowndes to 34-33 on a three-pointer at 6:35. Chrishon Stephens hit a falling down shot as part of a quick 4-0 Devils rally. It didn't last.
Hutchinson struck again from behind the arc. Warren broke a press with a dunk, but Jalon Baker, Hutchinson and Williams led a 6-1 Vikings run to regain the lead at 42-41.
Warren, who was honored before the game for scoring his 1,000th career point, led Tift with 14 points. Beckhom added 9.
Williams netted 12 for Lowndes.
VIKETTES 46, TIFT 33
Tift head coach Julie Conner said Friday's loss was probably what her team needed after a 9-0 start.
The win was well-earned by Lowndes, who led 29 of 32 minutes and only let the Lady Devils get close once.
The Lady Devils' best shot came during a third period flurry. Down 22-11 at intermission, Lowndes had stretch that to 24-11 on Kiersten Graham's basket.
Cali Conner started her team's string by knocking down a jumper. Tift dialed up its press and Caitlyn Burgess immediately intercepted a Lowndes pass and threw to an open Shakiria Chaney, who turned it into a three-point play after being fouled.
Seconds later, Chaney came up with a steal and scored and after a Vikettes' bucket, Tamyra Carter and Conner scored back-to-back baskets. Tift was now down 26-22.
Lowndes did not wilt.
They broke a press and Otaifo Esenabhalu scored under the hoop. Faith Johnson and Esenabhalu got baskets and after Tift missed a pair of three throws, made it eight straight points when Esenabhalu netted another. The crisis had been averted.
In the fourth, the Lady Devils got as close as seven (36-29) after Jaziyah Johnson turned a steal into a layup. They had opportunities to pull even closer, but were betrayed by the free throw line. Tift made barely more than 25% of their shots from the stripe.
Esenabhalu boosted the lead back up to 10 with a minute to play, more than enough to get the victory.
Tift's only lead was a Burgess layup. The 2-0 score held for all of 1:30 before Taje Middleton tied it up. It was the start of a 10-point streak that had Middleton at the front, middle and end. It was 10-4 Vikettes at the quarter.
Chaney scored quickly in the second and it appeared that Tift might shake off the first frame blues. Lowndes had other ideas. Four minutes later, it was 18-6 as Middleton and Esenabhalu continued to get points.
The Lady Devils had a little spark at the end of the half, but couldn't hold it. Alaysha Williams scored with four seconds left for a 22-11 lead at intermission.
Esenabhalu and Middleton both scored 12 for Lowndes.
Amazingly, Friday's game was the Vikettes' Region 1-7A debut for 2020-21. The team has been quarantined twice this season and have only played six games.
Chaney and Conner contributed 9 points each. They are now 9-1 for the year.
Tift won't play for some time.
Next week's Colquitt County games have been postponed to Feb. 9. The next game on the schedule is a girls game at Lowndes Feb. 1, a makeup from earlier this month.