Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Laney's boys and girls, Richmond, and Westside advance to sweet sixteen round of state playoffs

Laney's boys and girls, Richmond, and Westside all advanced to the sweet sixteen round of the state playoffs Wednesday with home victories. After two days of state playoff action, seemingly every local team that had the fortune of playing its first round game at home has advanced. And I can't think of a team that played on the road and survived.

Christian Keeling (24 points) and Zep Jasper (12 points) led the way for Laney as the Wildcats topped Southwest Macon 82-62. Laney hosts the winner of Lumpkin and North Murray Saturday in the sweet sixteen round. With a win, Laney can earn a spot in the quarterfinals at Augusta University next week.

Richmond advanced past Effingham County 85-74 Wednesday, setting up a sweet sixteen round game at Miller Grove, winner of 6 of the last 7 GHSA state titles. Miller Grove features McDonalds All American Alterique Gilbert, who has signed with UConn, home of Augusta basketball legend Ricky Moore. Colin Young, an all region performer as a Laney Wildcat last season, also plays for Miller Grove.

Madison Williams is playing his best basketball at the right time. The senior Illinois State signee led the way with 32 points. And rock solid senior Rashad Calloway added 14.

Westside made quick work of Rutland, setting up a road contest at East Hall this weekend. And Laney's Lady Wildcats continued their scorching hot run through the postseason. After beating the second, third, and fourth best 3A region opponents by an average of 26 points last week, Laney topped Central Macon 76-36 Wednesday.

Eubanks and Laney silence the talk of a first round upset

Laney's Jasper and Keeling scored pretty much at will in Laney's blowout win over Southwest Macon. The seniors constantly found opportunities at the rim by penetrating and by crashing the offensive glass. The duo scored 24 (Keeling) and 12 (Jasper) against the team many thought could upset the 24-2 Wildcats.

6'7" Southwest Macon forward Justin Slocum was as good as advertised early. His heady play helped Southwest earn an early 8-3 lead. That is when Laney's young trio of promising players, Donald Henley, Tahj Tanksley, and Willie Eubanks entered the game. With the substitutions came new energy. That and coach Shaun Parks's switch from a soft 2-3 zone to an aggressive man-to-man, made all the difference.

The extra effort on the defensive end flowed to the offensive side as the ball started to move more. Henley scored attacking the basket, much like he did Saturday in the region championship win over Westside. Tanksley stroked a three to get the fans excited. Then he hit another that sent them into a frenzy while chanting "let's go Laney."

But amid all the hoopla, the contribution that was most important may have been made by 6'2" junior Willie Eubanks. The football star and hard nosed banger-of-bodies on the court matched up with Slocum and silenced him for much of the night.

If I know the Laney players like I think I do, I would guess the buzz about Southwest Macon likely ending the Wildcats' season on opening night of the playoffs sparked Laney's lopsided victory. I suppose coach Parks doesn't care why his team advanced. Just as long as they did.

The video above helps explain why Laney's Willie Eubanks earned the "AugBball Game Ball" Wednesday. The 6'2" Eubanks entered the game to guard 6'7" Justin Slocum, who came into the game averaging 22 points and shooting 70% from the field.

Starting at :20 in the video, Eubanks blocks out his bigger opponent to free Zep Jasper to get the rebound on one possession. He helps, then recovers to grab a tough 50/50 rebound on the next go. And finally his activity forces Southwest's post entry pass to Slocum to sail out of bounds. Laney took control of the game amidst defensive stops like these.

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