Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy center Justin Tuoyo (31) looks back at a teammate as Liberty County’s Melvin King attempts to guard him in Wednesday’s Class AAAA second round playoff game.
For a team that only lost four times during the regular season, Lovejoy still feels it is not getting much respect.
Losing in the Region 4-AAAA semifinals definitely didn’t help the Wildcats’ profile.
Through the first two games of the Class AAAA tournament, however, Lovejoy is quickly making people take notice again.
On Wednesday, the Wildcats made believers out of visiting Liberty County with a 64-34 victory that earned them a trip to the quarterfinal round in Fort Valley.
“We felt when we didn’t win the region tournament, we let everyone down,” Lovejoy center Justin Tuoyo said. “We dropped out the rankings, and we felt disrespected. We came into this tournament to put everyone on notice.”
So far, they have achieved that goal.
The Wildcats (24-5) opened the tournament with a win over Fayette County, and then followed with a dominating second-half against Liberty County, the No. 4 seed from Region 2-AAAA.
Although Lovejoy led the entire game, it wasn’t until the 4:58 mark that it finally put the visitors away.
Lovejoy point guard Jermaine Hough and Liberty’s Sayvon Wilson were called for a double technical after a brief exchange of words. The Wildcats made a steal on the inbounds pass that resulted in a fast-break dunk by Tuoyo.
After another turnover by the Panthers, Lovejoy’s DeAngelo Anthony drilled a 3-pointer to put the Wildcats up 51-31 with 4:24 remaining.
“It got kind of personal out there,” Hough said. “They thought they were going to come in here and take this game from us. There was a lot of junk being said out there.”
Apparently too much for the game officials, who responded with the techs. Earlier in the game, Lovejoy coach Rick Francis was hit with a technical foul.
Hough’s tech seemed to fire the team up.
“We are like family on this team,” Tuoyo said. “We had to do our duty and have Jermaine’s back. We look at it as he was fighting for us, so we had to turn it up.”
Francis didn’t condone Hough for getting the technical foul, but did acknowledge that it put a fire under his team.
“I didn’t like that he got it, but it put some spirit in us,” Francis said. “We started to click after that. I wish we would have gotten fired up a lot sooner, but as long as we come out on top, it is all good.”
Anthony led all scorers with 13 points while Michael Harden, Hough and Tuoyo each had 10 points for the Wildcats, who face region rival Jonesboro on Friday at 8:30 p.m. at Fort Valley State University.
Lovejoy won the only meeting between the two schools this season.
“Our guys understand that, from here on out, it’s a one-game season,” Francis said. “Nobody wants to go home at this point. We lost in the region tournament, and my guys didn’t like that feeling. I think it has made us more focused.”