TIFTON — The Tift County Blue Devils basketball team moved into the driver’s seat in the Region 1-AAAAA standings here Friday night with a 71-61 victory over the Houston County Bears. The win gives Tift a 5-0 mark in the region standings, while every other team has at least two losses in league play.

While the Devils maintained their top spot in the league, the Lady Devils got back into the region race with a 51-41 win over Houston in the girl’s game.

Devils head coach Johnny Spurlin said the key to the win over Houston was “ we executed our offense well tonight.”

“They changed defenses on us five times tonight and I thought we did a good job adjusting each time. We did a good job picking apart the zones they played against us. Justin (Brownlee) had several good passes down low to Maurice (Morrow) for baskets.”

Brownlee led Tift with 22 points.

“Tonight, Justin proved he can dominate even when he doesn’t score. He had a big game passing, rebounding, and on defense,” Spurlin said.

Houston jumped out quick and led 20-14 at the end of the first quarter. Tift began to bounce back and the game was tied at 31-31 at the half. The big stretch for Tift in the second quarter was three straight three-point baskets by Keith Cagle.

Ahead 50-46 going into the fourth quarter, the Devils quickly bumped the lead up to nine when Morrow’s free throw made the score 55-46 with 6:54 left. Houston came back to cut the advantage to within two, 59-57, on a three-point play by Quintin Banks with 2:18 left.

However, Tift was perfect at the free throw line in the final minute as Chris Range and Terrell Johnson hit two apiece, while Cagle hit six in a row.

“I was very proud of Terrell Johnson. He didn’t play well early in the game, but he came back and had several big plays for us late in the game,” Spurlin said.

Cagle added 21 points for Tift, while Morrow had 15 and Johnson scored seven.

“I was very proud of the entire team tonight. Everyone that played contributed something positive for us,” Spurlin said.

With his team still perfect in the region, the Tift coach said, “Everyone will be gunning for us. But, we have to be in the driver’s seat.”

Avery Wright led Houston with 17 points, while Banks scored 12.

Playing for the first time since losing Imesha Wells for the season after she suffered a torn ACL against Coffee on Tuesday, the Lady Devils were impressive, leading 43-28 with 56.6 seconds left in the third quarter on a basket by Kaneshia Brown.

However, Tift then went 7:07 without scoring a point. During that stretch Houston had cut the lead to 43-39. During that run, the Lady Bears would have tied the game if they had converted four free throws.

Finally scoring again with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter on two free throws from Jessica Jenkins, Tift wound up winning game by making late free throws.

“We figured out a way to hold on for the win. We hit several big free throws at the end of the game,” Lady Devils head coach Michelle Caldwell said. “I told the team during one of our last time outs that they would foul us and we would have to make our free throws. If we didn’t we would lose, if we did we would win. We hit them and we won.”

Lindsay Welker led Tift with 18 points. Justina Brownlee scored 13, while Jenkins added 11.

“We have a good group of kids. Sometimes we just lack confidence. We have to know we can win. We are a good basketball team, they have just got to realize that,” Caldwell said of her team that is now 3-2 in the region.

The team will miss Wells, Caldwell said.

“She had so much athletic ability that it will definitely hurt us. But, it gives a chance for players like Stephanie Brownlee to step up and contribute. She did that extremely well for us tonight,” the Lady Devils head coach said.

Brittany Torain had 16 for Houston and Candice Clark added 12.

Tift will travel to Ashburn tonight to face Turner County in a non-region game. The teams will then return home Tuesday for a 1-AAAAA battle against Colquitt County. The games tonight will be at 7 p.m., while the Tuesday games will be at 6 p.m.

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