By Derrick Mahone
With his team trailing by seven points at halftime and looking out of synch much of the first 16 minutes of its first round Class AAAA playoff game, Stockbridge coach Duane Kelley didn't have to deliver a halftime speech.
When he walked into the locker room, Tigers guard Antonio Anthony had already beaten him to the verbal lashing of his teammates.
Anthony, a senior, challenged his teammates to pickup their defensive pace because he wasn't ready for his high school career to end.
The Tigers responded with a big third quarter effort as Stockbridge defeated visiting Upson-Lee 77-62 to win its first state playoff game.
"I didn't have to say anything because the kids got on each other," Kelley said. "I didn't say anything and my assistants didn't have to either. Double-A (Anthony) made them realize that the season could be over. He got in the boys face."
Stockbridge forced 11 third-quarter turnovers and outscored the Knights 25-8 in the quarter to take control of the game. The Tigers ended the quarter on a 10-0 run as they entered the final quarter with a 55-45 lead.
A layup by reserve forward Leon Prunty with 51 seconds remaining in the third quarter gave the Tigers a 47-45 lead. It was Stockbridge's first lead of the game.
Senior Chris Davis lead the Tigers with 12 points during the quarter as he finished with a game-high 29 points. Donte Campbell finished with 23 points for the Tigers, who will host a second round game on Tuesday.
"We really turned up the defensive intensity during the third quarter," Davis said. "We started the game off lax. We weren't getting back on defense, and that is why they were getting a lot of easy baskets."
Davis came out on fire in the third while carrying most of the offensive load.
"I felt it was time for me to take the lead," Davis said. "I put them on my back. We just had to stop playing scared. At the beginning of the game we were real tight."
Said Kelley: "Chris is Chris. This is what he does. It is good to have one of the best players in the state on your team. I don't have to say much to Chris, because he has a high basketball IQ. The whole team stepped up in the third."
As the Region 4-AAAA champions played tight, Upson-Lee, the No. 4 seed from Region 1-AAAA played like a team with nothing to lose.
The Knights jumped to a 9-0 lead before Davis hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to give Stockbridge its first score with 3:46 remaining. Stockbridge would tie the game at 21-21 when Campbell hit a jumper with 5:43 remaining in the second quarter.
But the majority of the second quarter belonged to Upson-Lee, whose season ended with a 16-11 record.
The Knights had three players to get into double figures scoring with Martago Howell leading the way with 18 points while Quent Howell and Ceron Baker scored 16 points a piece. Howell had three first half 3-pointers to score 13 points through the first two quarters.
However, he cold in the second half with only three free throws.
"We came out in a slump," Anthony said. "It was like we were dead. We didn't have much intensity. We were down seven at halftime, and I wasn't ready to go home. I didn't want this to be my last senior game."
It wasn't as the Tigers will host Glenn Hills on Tuesday in the second round.
Anthony said he talked to the team about playing better defense.
"We were just standing around watching the game," Anthony said. "We weren't causing enough turnovers. I told the team that we had to stop ball-watching and start playing defense."