By Lee Wright
Special to the News-Daily
The Lovejoy Wildcats may have come into Tuesday night's showdown against rival Morrow ranked fourth in the latest Class AAAA State rankings. But Lovejoy had to scratch and claw every bit for a hard-fought 47-43 victory over the visiting Mustangs. LoveJoy improves to 14-2 overall and a perfect 10-0 in Region 4-AAAA play, while Morrow drops to 5-10 and 1-8 in region play.
Despite the victory in its first game in more than a week due to the winter storm, Lovejoy head coach Rick Francis was anything but pleased with his team's play.
"I'm looking for consistency, and these guys need to understand the pressure is on - that means executing in every facet of the game," said Francis. "The bottom line is we made too many mistakes. (Morrow head coach) Jay (Livingston) is a great coach, and every time we play each other, it goes down to the wire."
In an effort to slow down the Wildcats' talented 6-foot-8 junior center Justin Tuoyo, Livingston went with a 2-3 collapsing zone against Lovejoy. In turn, the Wildcats could not connect from the perimeter.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs battled to tie the game 11-11 on a tip-in by Julio Hutchinson at the 4:53 mark of the second quarter. Morrow tied the game again on a jumper in the lane by Hutchinson, but Lovejoy's Jermaine Hough drained a 3-point basket at the buzzer to give the Wildcats a 21-18 halftime lead.
Aiming to take control of the tempo, Lovejoy built a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter on two straight lay-ups by Chris Ashford. But Morrow kept it close as steady point guard Jordan Faciane drained two 3-point baskets to cut the Lovejoy lead to six points. His driving lay-up with 1:20 remaining cut the Wildcat lead to 35-32 at the end of the third quarter.
Faciane again carried the Mustangs on his shoulder in the final period. Trailing by eight points, he drained a 3-point basket, followed by a jumper in the lane to cut the Wildcat lead to 41-38 at the 1:39 mark. That was as close as Morrow would get as Tuoyo scored on a lay-up with 29 seconds remaining.
"Most teams know if we are effective from the perimeter, we are tough to defend," Francis said. "We got some good looks, but they didn't drop. Getting Justin the ball down low is key because he makes good decisions with it most of the time. We have to understand there are other things we can do on the offensive end."
Hough paced Lovejoy with 14 points, followed by Ashford with 13 points. Tuoyo scored nine points and had five blocked shots. Faciane scored a game-high 23 points on four 3-point baskets for Morrow, while Hutchinson scored 11 points.
Lovejoy 47, Morrow 37 (Girls): In a battle of two teams battling to stay alive in the Region 4-AAAA women's race, the Lady Wildcats from Lovejoy got a much-needed victory against the Lady Mustangs. Lovejoy and head coach Arthur Carter improve to 7-9 overall and 6-4 in the region, while head coach Yolonda Jenkins' Morrow Lady Mustangs fall to 5-6 overall and 2-5 in region.
Lovejoy dominated the first half, leading 27-13 at halftime thanks to its half-court trapping defense. Morrow was able to trim the Lady Wildcat lead to seven points in the fourth quarter, but that was as close as the Lady Mustangs would get.
Lovejoy had a strong game from Navilla Paul, who scored a game-high 15 points, while Yamaya Crawford scored 11 points. Her 3-point bank-shot midway through the fourth quarter halted a Morrow surge and gave the Lady Wildcats a 10-point lead.
Lajoi Battle scored 11 points to pace Morrow.