Panthers advance over McKenzie to area finals

Published 5:14 pm Friday, February 12, 2016

The Georgiana Panthers scored a hat-trick with its third victory over their rival, the McKenzie Tigers, though this time the stakes were higher than ever.

The No. 1 Panthers fended off the hungry No. 4 Tigers with an 82-40 victory, earning a ticket to the area championship against J.F. Shields in the process.

But it was the Tigers who pounced out of the gate first with a quick bucket from Jacquez Smith off the opening tip.

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Though the quick start energized the Tigers’ offense and defense, another Jacquez—Georgiana’s Jacquez Payton—silenced half of the gym by draining a 3-pointer on the other end of the floor.

Though the Tigers were down a captain and primary ballhandler with an injured Condie Pugh on the bench, junior point guard Chris Shufford more than carried the burden with a flurry of baskets at the top of the first quarter.

Shufford’s efforts helped the Tigers match the Panthers’ pace for more than half of the first quarter, but the Panthers’ signature full-court press eventually wore the McKenzie backcourt out in the latter minutes of the opening quarter.

As the Panthers continued to rotate in fresh bodies—including Demarcus Rich, whose stellar defensive play kept Shufford mostly in check—the casualties began to rise as errant inbound passes led to point-blank buckets at the Georgiana rim.

17 points later and the Panthers’ lead had become unmanageable, though back-to-back layups from Shufford helped stop the significant bleeding at the close of the quarter.

An emphatic slam dunk from Clarence Curry almost ended the first quarter with an exclamation point for Georgiana with a single second left on the clock, but the bucket was waived off.

Despite the Georgiana run, the Tigers matched the Panthers’ pace—if not their score—throughout the second quarter. Shufford continued a series of relentless attacks at the basket, drawing fouls all the while and earning trips to the charity strike.

But fatigue began to wear on the Tigers as a number of fresh Georgiana bodies—including impressive performances off the bench from Clarence Curry and DeAarion Squaire—kept the Panthers’ scoring engine going.

The explosive step of DeQuan Crenshaw began the second half for Georgiana with a pair of buckets and a drawn foul, but the Tigers received some added help as William Brown found his outside shot with a sequence of fadeaways that chipped at the Panther lead.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, the Panthers’ second-string defense proved just as tough as the Georgiana starters, holding McKenzie to only four points in the final quarter of play.

Jacquez Payton led the Panthers with 19 points, 9 assists and 7 steals.

Georgiana received a healthy amount of offense from four other contributors, including Clarence Curry and Nizaiah Smith with 11 points apiece and Demarcus Rich and DeAarion Squaire with 10 points each.

Chris Shufford led the Tigers with 17 points.

Georgiana played J.F. Shields once again for the area title, though results weren’t available at press time.