Photo by Dennis Thomas
Luella guard B.J. McNeal tries to drive past a Morrow defender during first-half action in the Region 2-AAAAAA contest on Tuesday evening.
LOCUST GROVE — Morrow saw its six-game winning streak snapped while Luella notched what coach Jamond Sims called a “potential turning point victory” for his young team.
The Lions used tenacious defense, hot perimeter shooting and a clutch performance from junior TeMarcus Blanton to defeat No. 6 Morrow 69-65 on Tuesday in a Region 2-AAAAA contest.
Blanton’s 24 points led all scorers and paced the Lions to their third straight win, causing Sims to speak proudly of his upstart Lions — a team made up of just three players with starting experience.
“We made some improvements tonight, but we’re not 100 percent content,” Sims said. “But with such an inexperienced roster, we are definitely pleased with the progress.”
What may be most impressive is the fact that Sims’ young team was able to close a game against a quality opponent that was close throughout.
Morrow (9-2) came into the game with a top-10 ranking by MaxPreps.com, while carrying its longest win streak since the 2009-10 season, which was the last Mustangs team to post a winning record.
In a game where neither team seemed able to fully put the other away, it was Luella sharp-shooting guard Jared Hendricks, who first sparked major life into the Lions. Down 14-9 late in the first quarter, Hendricks buried four straight long jumpers, including two 3-pointers, to help Luella pull within two, 18-16, at the end of the first.
Luella built upon a 29-25 halftime lead by scoring the first seven points of the third quarter before the Mustangs stormed back with a 10-2 run to tie the game at 40. From there, the Region 2-AAAAAA foes traded blows, neither able to extend a lead larger than two points.
Morrow forward Chris Datcher scored four of his 11 points on back to back buckets – the latter of which came with just 2:52 left in the game to pull Morrow to a 62-62 tie. But Blanton would answer back, connecting on a three point play that gave Luella a 65-62 advantage with just 1:48 remaining.
Datcher’s basket would be Morrow’s last field goal of the game, as Luella turned up the defensive pressure by sagging into a 2-3 zone to keep the Mustang’s slashing guards out of the paint.
Luella point guard Nyrryk Evans sank late free throws with less than a minute remaining to ice the victory.
Hendricks scored 15 and Evans chipped in with 12 for Luella, while Demarkus Lowman led the Mustangs with 17 points. Richielieu Hayes added 13. Both teams will be on the road Friday night with Luella playing at Lovejoy and Morrow traveling to Newton.