Photo by Heather Middleton
By Brian Paglia
FORT VALLEY - Lovejoy spent two games in the Class AAAA tournament introducing opponents to its brand of frenetic defense, and two ranked teams had no answer for the Wildcats.
Seventh-ranked Brunswick eventually wore down. Fourth-ranked Bainbridge was too startled to react in time.
But third-ranked Fayette County had the answer in Tigers senior guard Adam Smith. The UNC-Wilmington signee poured in 30 points to hand seventh-ranked Lovejoy a 64-44 defeat Friday in the Class AAAA quarterfinals at Fort Valley State.
Fayette County (29-2) advances to play the Southwest DeKalb-Rockdale County winner in the semifinals at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Lovejoy ends its season with a 25-5 record.
Smith dazzled with his ball-handling and deep shooting range. Lovejoy smothered the slippery guard as best it could, but Smith possessed a shooting range beyond the Wildcats' grasp.
And Smith was at his best when Fayette County needed him most.
Jermaine Hough brought Lovejoy to within 31-30 with 4:47 left in the third quarter with a three-point play, and then Smith took over. He dribbled the ball around the top of the key, stepped behind a pick and drained a 3. On the Tigers' next possession, Smith calmly brought the ball up the court, then suddenly pulled up for another 3.
"He was a tough task," Lovejoy coach Rick Francis said. "This was my first time seeing him play. I looked at him and I thought we had someone who could contain him for at least a minute, but gosh almighty, the kid's just an unbelievable offensive player.
"My guys pretty much played him right, but (Fayette County) Coach (Andre) Flynn did a good job in terms of freeing him up with the high screen. All he needs is a little daylight."
Smith made four 3-pointers in all, while Lovejoy went cold from the second quarter until the disappointing end.
Francis wasn't sure why the Wildcats went from two-rounds of sound shooting to enduring season-crippling woes. Francis said perhaps the new environment in a large open gym might have disrupted his team's depth perception.
But he also admitted some nights the shots just don't fall.
"We always say that if you live by the jumpshot, you die by the jumpshot," Francis said. "Unfortunately our outside shot just wasn't working."
Leroy Merritt led Lovejoy with 11 points, while Hough and Justin Tuoyo added nine points a piece.
Ekene Anachebe added 11 points for Fayette County.