By Brian Paglia
Just one day after Morrow's boys basketball team orchestrated a stunning 69-68 upset of No. 1-ranked Westlake, Mustangs coach Jay Livingston encouraged his team to move on. Nights like that can happen, he said, even to teams like Westlake. Livingston should know.
Eight years ago, Livingston had the No. 1 team in the state. Morrow lost just two games that season and made the Class AAAAA semifinals. Each night was a test for the Mustangs, for every opponent mustered its best performance to try to upset Morrow.
"I've been there before, and I know when you're No. 1 everybody's going to play you hard," Livingston said. "If you blink at the wrong time, somebody's going to suck you up."
Westlake blinked Tuesday. But Livingston sees no need to dwell too long on the victory
"I try to get them to move on now," Livingston said. "It was a win and you move on. We've still got work to do."
A young group with talent, but not experience, has so far outperformed Livingston's veteran team last season, which featured five senior starters, including Tony Dukes, the Clayton County player of the year. The Mustangs are 12-5 overall and 6-4 in Region 4-AAAAA going into their game Saturday against second-place Lovejoy.
Livingston has had to carefully navigate the highs and lows with this team. Tuesday's victory against Westlake was the ultimate high.
Despite Livingston's focus to move forward from Tuesday's win, reminders of the thrilling game were all around. At practice Wednesday, the scoreboard still showed the final score. A newspaper clipping about the upset win was taped to the door to Livingston's office.
And Morrow players acknowledged the win could provide a verdant team with much needed momentum heading in the final stretch of the regular season.
"It builds up our confidence level," Morrow senior Charles West said.
But go back one game before Tuesday night. Morrow visited East Coweta, a team they handled easily in a 77-59 victory Dec. 1. The Indians had a losing record and a history of struggling against the Mustangs.
That night Morrow blinked. East Coweta dealt Morrow an 82-71 loss and a timely lesson.
Livingston said this season has been full of lessons for his inexperienced roster. West and fellow seniors Kadarius Donaldson and Mike Tyson played sparingly last season, providing a level of stability and leadership for Livingston to lean on at times, but the rest of the roster underwent a complete overhaul.
A new influx of juniors and sophomores rose to the varsity level, led by junior Julito Hutchinson and sophomores Maqeeye Biggs, Rufus Brown and Jordan Faciane. Livingston said they had the talent to contribute on varsity last season, but playing time wouldn't have been available, so he gave them a year of seasoning on the junior varsity team.
Livingston attributes that time on the junior varsity to the successful transition they've made this season. Indeed, Faciane led Morrow in scoring against Westlake with 23 points, while Hutchinson added 14.
"The younger group, they're really ready to get after it," West said. "They want the same thing that we do, and that's to go to the state tournament and win a championship."
"We would like to be an Elite Eight team," Livingston said. "We've got four seniors, five juniors, three sophomores and a freshman. If you can go to the Elite Eight with that, then the next year ... oh, man."