Sunday, December 10, 2017

Lakeside takes first of back-to-back matchups with Midland Valley before Friday's region opening showdown

Lakeside and Midland Valley will meet again Tuesday at MV.

Brad Hilley scored 21 points and Kalen Williams added 20 as Lakeside earned a 69-65 win over Midland Valley at home Saturday.

The Panthers improved to 5-2 with the win, which snapped a two game losing streak after Lakeside dropped a pair of road games the prior weekend at the home gyms of state title contenders North Augusta and Collins Hill.

The Mustangs (1-4) were unable to complete a weekend sweep of Columbia County after scoring 47 second half points Friday in a come-from-behind road win over Evans. 6’4” senior guard Anthoney Ray continued his exciting play Saturday with 18 points, including a high flying dunk and a couple difficult three pointers off the dribble. Ray, who entered the weekend averaging 22 points per game, scored 17 in Friday’s win.

Lakeside and Midland Valley meet again Tuesday at MV before Lakeside hosts Greenbrier (8-1) Friday in a prime time matchup to open class AAAAAA play.

Augusta routes Paine ahead of a pair of PBC home games

Augusta University got 22 points from junior Tyvez Monroe, 16 from Tamyrik Fields, and career highs from freshmen Troy Cracknell (10 points) and Shawn Moss (8) in Saturday's 85-56 home win over Paine.

The win was the second straight for the Jaguars (4-3), who won last weekend at Georgia College to open Peach Belt Conference play. Paine fell to 1-8 on the season.

Saturday’s win was a breakout game of sorts for the Jaguars, who made 8 of 12 three pointers and converted 53% of their field goals after making only 37% of their shots and managing only one three pointer in last Saturday's 52-51 win over Georgia College.

But no matter the offensive numbers, Monroe, a three year starter, stressed that the team’s success will depend on what happens on the defensive end of the court.

"Scoring is not going to be a problem," Monroe said in a post game interview. "It's more about defense than anything right now. That's what we're trying to get better at."

The defense will surely be key. Augusta has held its past two opponents to fewer than 60 points. An effort like that in the last two (conference) games before Christmas (Sunday at home against Young Harris and December 19th at home against North Georgia) will be a present that the Jaguars will gladly accept from Santa.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The most important 8 days of the regular season begins today for Glenn Hills, Butler, Laney, and Josey

Region play begins tonight for the area's class AA region, which includes the #1 ranked AA team in the state on both the boys (Glenn Hills) and the girls (Laney) sides. Here are the things I'll follow closely during the first week of league action:

See @AugBball on Facebook for bonus coverage from #1 Glenn Hills's matchup with Butler tonight.

The most important 8 days of the regular season begins today for Glenn Hills, Butler, Laney, and Josey

The four boys teams listed above are the favorites to grab the 4 state playoff spots at stake in this 7 team region. If it seems premature to say that the first 8 days are the most important for these teams, consider all of the prime time matchups that will impact the teams' 12 game record come February when the region tournament begins:

Friday, December 8
Glenn Hills at Butler

Tuesday, Dec 12
Laney at Glenn Hills
Josey at Butler

Friday, Dec 15
Laney at Butler

The same teams played the same schedule in the same sequence last season, and both the regular season region champ, Butler, and the tournament winner, Laney, finished the 8 day gauntlet with 2-1 records over the span. On the other side of the spectrum, Glenn Hills dropped 2 of the 3 games before going on to finish fourth in the regular season standings and fifth in the region tournament, surprising many by missing the state playoffs.

The lesson here is that it is difficult to have a great region record if you don't have a great start to region play. That is especially true when close to half of your most important games come in the first 8 days of league play.

Much is at stake because the regular season champion gets a bye in the first round of region tournament play and therefore an automatic spot in the state playoffs.

If this season's version of the Glenn Hills vs Butler rivalry game is anything like last season's (see below), you'll want to tune in to the @AugBball Facebook page to follow along:

On the girls side, Laney looks likely to blitz the competition, but Josey is riding high

De'sha Benjamin has scored 34 points in back-to-back games

I believe nobody will stop Laney's Lady Wildcats (3-0) this season. Tuesday's 90-55 win over Richmond, which included a 57-14 run over a span of 16 minutes to blow open the game, is the latest evidence for that theory.

The Lady Wildcats visit Westside (2-1) tonight.

But Josey (7-0) is off to its best start in a long time, recently earning wins over AAAA state tournament hopefuls Burke County (highlights below) and Cross Creek.

The Lady Eagles probably will not have trouble tonight against Harlem, and shouldn't Tuesday against Glenn Hills. But next Friday's visit to Butler will require Josey's full attention, because the Lady Bulldogs proved in a recent near win at Cross Creek (highlights below) that they can compete against the better teams.

Lady Yellow Jackets make it 32 straight with dominating win over Flora; boys drop first game of season

Mya Burns scored 12 points in North Augusta's win Thursday.

Amari Young scored 29 points and dished out 6 assists as North Augusta topped AC Flora 75-29 at home Thursday to improve to 4-0 ahead of a much anticipated weekend trip to Washington, D.C.

The defending state champion Yellow Jackets leave for D.C. at 6:00 AM to arrive in time for Friday’s 7:30 P.M. showdown with Winter Haven, Florida’s class 8A champion last season, in the 9th annual “She Got Game” tournament, which last season featured 117 teams from 13 states.

The Lady Yellow Jackets made the difficult look easy Thursday, leaping out to a 28-5 lead over a strong Flora squad, which entered the game with a 5-1 record. North Augusta further broke open a 23 point halftime lead with another 28 point quarter in the third, taking a 42 point lead, at 68-26, into the final period before the bench was cleared for the night.

 Young’s game high 29 led the way. Mya Burns (12 points), Sarah Crews (11), and Aaliyah Bell (11) also scored in double figures. But the most impressive statistic I can report is that for the 21 made field goals by North Augusta that I recorded, I count 16 assists.

That’s remarkable. And so are the Lady Jackets, who extended their winning steak to 32 last night.

I’ll share updates from D.C. as I get them so we can find out if that winning streak, which is over 12 months old now, will live through the weekend!

Boys drop first game of the season

North Augusta’s boys suffered their first loss of the season, a 57-49 decision to AC Flora, which recently swept a pair of games at Evans High against Baldwin and Evans.

The Yellow Jackets dug out of holes twice, first at the end of the first quarter when RJ Felton’s basket completed a 14-5 run that gave North Augusta a brief lead at 17-15. Then after trailing 29-22 late in the second quarter, the Yellow Jackets went on another spurt, outscoring the Falcons 17-5 and taking a 39-34 lead into the final minute of the third quarter.

North Augusta's Tez Collins scored 16 points against AC Flora Thursday.

Flora seized back the momentum by making 4 three pointers in the next 4 minutes and racing to a road win after outscoring North Augusta 20-10 in the final period.

Senior Tez Collins (16 points) and freshman RJ Felton (14 points) led the way for the Jackets.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

North Augusta’s girls and boys host AC Flora tonight before girls leave for big tournament in DC

North Augusta's double header vs AC Flora is Thursday's Game of the Day.

Especially because there are no other varsity games being played in the area tonight, I encourage hoops fans to check out North Augusta's double header against AC Flora. The Lady Yellow Jackets (3-0) will try to continue their 31 game winning streak, which began the first game of last season and included a state championship game victory in March. And the boys (3-0) will face maybe their toughest test yet in the Falcons, who enter the game with a 4-1 record, including wins over Baldwin and Evans.

The Lady Jackets and fellow state champ Laney play at a level above all of the other girls teams in our area. Senior Amari Young signed her national letter of intent to play college ball at Old Dominion and Sarah Crews has signed with Lander, the team to beat in the Peach Belt Conference. And underclassmen like Mya Burns will likely soon follow her older teammates' lead.

And I placed the boys team #3 in the December edition of my "Top 10 Area Teams List," a pick that I gained even more confidence in after the Yellow Jackets handled Lakeside (#6) Friday at home.

Lady Jackets are off to Washington, D.C., immediately after Thursday's game

Soon after tonight's game ends, the girls will travel to one of the nation's top high school girls tournaments, the "She Got Game" classic in Washington, D.C., which included 117 teams from 13 states last season. In this interview, Crews and head coach Crystal Cummings talk about the high profile tournament, what it means to them, and how they were able to get such a great opportunity:

NA's schedule in DC

North Augusta vs Winter Haven
- Friday 7:25
- Winter Haven (4-0) is Florida’s defending 8A District 7 state champion.

North Augusta vs Cardinal O’Hara
- Saturday 12:50
- Cardinal O’Hara (1-0) reached New York’s state semifinals last season, winning the Monsignor Martin League and amassing a 21-6 overall record.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Laney's boys and girls sweep Richmond at Richmond

D'Juan Griffin scored 14 points in Laney's win Tuesday.

Laney's Donald Henley pulled up from the left wing and buried a three pointer in front of his own bench to give his team a 52-43 lead over Richmond with 4:21 remaining, and the Wildcats earned a 60-53 road win to improve to 4-1 for the season.

Laney 60, Richmond 53 - Full Game Highlights

Henley, a veteran playing his fourth year of varsity basketball, scored a team high 15 points, and he was very comfortable taking the shot that gave Laney a big enough cushion to coast to a victory.

"We've been doing this since the ninth grade, so we just kept our composure and played hard," the fiery point guard told me in the post game interview below.

Henley's three pointer was timely because Richmond had gained the momentum after almost completely overcoming a 13 point second half deficit with an 18-7 run that cut Laney's lead to 39-37 after three quarters. After Henley's three, the Wildcats regained possession and ran more than a minute off the clock before PJ Walker put back his own miss with 2:07 remaining to give the Wildcats a 56-46 lead and end all hope of another Richmond comeback.

Henley (15 points), D'Juan Griffin (14), and Walker (8) led the way for Laney. The quickness and skill of that dynamic trio more than made up for the Wildcats' size disadvantage against the Musketeers, which were led by senior DT Stephens, who netted a game high 19 points.

Laney (4-1) will visit Westside Friday in both teams' class AA region 3 opener. Richmond (4-3) will visit Grovetown Friday.

Laney's "Big 3" Score Big and the Lady Wildcats Run Away with the Win

Jaiden Hamilton scored 20 points in Laney's win Tuesday.

De'sha Benjamin scored 34 points, and Jaiden Hamilton and Jhessyka Williams tossed in 20 and 19 points, respectively, to lead the defending state champion Lady Wildcats to a 90-55 win at Richmond.

Laney 90, Richmond 55 - Full Game Highlights


Laney used a 57-14 spurt that spanned the entire second and third quarters to take an 80-41 lead after into the fourth. The run was punctuated by a very matter-of-fact three pointer from Benjamin that she made on the last play of third quarter before walking to the bench.

"The clock was running down, and I saw an open opportunity," the Alabama signee told me in this post game interview:

Monday, December 4, 2017

AugBball's Top 10 Boys HS Teams List (December Edition) includes Aiken, Aquinas, North Augusta, and Glenn Hills at the top

So far this season, four teams have distinguished themselves from the pack with fast starts. Those teams grabbed the first four spots on the December edition of my "AugBball Top 10 Boys Teams List:"

Aiken, Aquinas, North Augusta, and Glenn Hills top my list of top 10 teams./

#1 - Aiken (2-0)

November ranking: #1
Next game: Aiken at Greenwood - Tonight

When I put Aiken at the top of the list in the November edition of the top 10, I cited the Hornets’ size (4 starters stand 6’4” and taller) and their winning pedigree (Aiken went 24-5 last season, including an undefeated run through region play and a class AAAA state playoff quarterfinal finish.

But once I finally got to see the 2017-18 version of Aiken last week, I was most struck by coach Darris Jackson’s team’s man-to-man defense. The Hornets held Silver Bluff to less than 20 points in both halves of their opener. After the game, coach Jackson talked to me on the phone about how pleased he was with his bigger players’ effort moving their feet and keeping the Bulldogs’ guards in front of them. Watch and listen here:

#2 - Aquinas (1-1)

November ranking: #2
Next game: Lake Oconee at Aquinas - Tonight

After I’ve watched North Augusta and Glenn Hills play nearly flawless basketball 3 times in the past 12 days, the fact that I am keeping the Irish at number 2 in this month’s edition of the list says a lot for how highly I think of the program coach Darren Douglas is building.

It is a sure sign that your defense is playing at a high level when you hold the likes of Bishop Loughlin (NY) and Eagles Landing Christian to 45 and 40 points, respectively, in the high profile Holiday Hoopsgiving Tournament in Atlanta. And the point about how good the Irish look already was driven home even more emphatically when critics complained so much on Twitter about how badly the referees (supposedly) cheated ELCA.

I can imagine how it must be hard to believe that a team can be as disciplined and prepared as Aquinas was on the season’s opening weekend. The Irish’s ability to stop teams from scoring is the reason I believe they would win in a matchup with any area team except for Aiken.

Here coach Douglas talks after a preseason scrimmage about the Irish's defense and the contributions assistant coach Wes Wuchte has made towards the cause:

#3 - North Augusta (2-0)

November ranking: #3
Next game: North Augusta at Dutch Fork - Tonight

The Yellow Jackets put on an offensive clinic Friday, beating Lakeside 84-70 after starting the game with 28 first quarter points. Coach Tony Harrell's sources of offense were everywhere:

  • Sophomore Omarion Byrd made 6 threes en route to a game high 24 points.
  • Tez Collins scored 21, including a highlight reel dunk that made the crowd buzz.
  • The fantastic freshman Russell Felton played way beyond his years, scoring 20 points in his first high profile game.
  • And 6'4" wing Bryson Mozone buried 3 three pointers.
But the way the Yellow Jackets used their offense to get Collins exactly where they wanted him against the smaller guards Lakeside defended him with was the most impressive thing to me about North Augusta's 84 point explosion:

#4 Glenn Hills (3-0)

November ranking: #6
Next game: Glenn Hills at Butler (region opener)

Many believe the Spartans have the area's most talented and best team. Coach Travis McRae's squad may be on their way to proving them right. That 6'8" senior Timmy Sellers and 6'5" sophomore John Whitehead have dominated the space above the rim is no surprise.

But the instant impact of transfers Tim Williamson (20 ppg through 3 games) and Isaiah Bauman (11 ppg) has surprised me.

#5 - Baldwin (3-3)

November ranking: #4
Next game: Hancock at Baldwin - Saturday, Dec 9

Donte Justice - Baldwin

#6 Lakeside (4-2)

November ranking: #6
Next game: Midland Valley at Lakeside - Saturday, Dec 9

Kalen Williams - Lakeside

#7 Greenbrier (5-1)

November ranking: not ranked
Next game: Greenbrier at Augusta Christian - Tonight

Richard Crawford III - Greenbrier

#8 - Laney (3-1)

November ranking: #5
Next game: Laney at Richmond - Tonight

Donald Henley - Laney

#9 - Burke County (2-0)

November ranking: not ranked
Next game: Evans at Burke County - Tonight

Deontae Carter - Burke County (photo via Larry Smith)

#10 - Richmond (4-2)

November Ranking: #9
Next game: Laney at Richmond - Tonight

DT Stephens - Richmond