BOYS’ BASKETBALL: Henry County ends ‘incredible year’ for LaFayette
For more than two-and-a-half quarters Wednesday night, the LaFayette Ramblers were proving themselves to be one of the top 16 teams remaining in the Class 4A playoffs.
Then Henry County proved why they are ranked number two in the state.
Leading underdog LaFyette by just 10 points with 3:30 left in the third period of their second-round matchup, the Warhawks used a 17-2 run to close out the quarter and effectively seal what would eventually be an 82-52 victory over the gritty Ramblers.
Senior Javon Greene, who came into the game averaging 20.9 points for the Warhawks, helped lead the charge in the decisive run as Henry County’s athleticism, height and speed simply took over the game.
"(Henry County) is a really tough team," LaFayette head coach Hank Peppers said. "They’ve got length at every position. They’re very fast and they’re very athletic. They’re ranked where they’re ranked for a reason."
Henry County (23-5) will go on to face either Richmond Academy or LaGrange in the Elite Eight round of the state tournament. That game is slated for Thursday in LaGrange.
LaFayette stunned the Warhawks and their fans in the first quarter by matching the home team nearly shot for shot. Green scored 11 in the first stanza, but Tyrese Hunter and Alex Kelehear dropped in eight points each for the Ramblers, who trailed 23-22 after the opening eight minutes.
Greene, however, kept up his torrid scoring pace in the second quarter and the Warhawks’ quick hands on defense would start to give the Ramblers trouble. Greene added 10 more points to his total to help spur a 16-5 run that gave the home team a 45-32 lead at intermission.
"Those shots we got off in the first quarter we weren’t getting off in the second quarter as they started to extend their defense and their pressure," Peppers explained. "They’ve got guards that are 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5 and they really gave us trouble pressing and trapping."
To their credit, LaFayette refused to leave McDonough quietly.
The Ramblers opened the third quarter with five straight points, including a 3-pointer by Andrew Pendergrass, and they slowly begin to chip away at the Warhawks’ lead. With 3:30 left to play in the period, the Ramblers we’re still very much within striking distance, trailing 52-42 and looking to get the deficit down to single digits.
But Henry County was simply too much to handle. Greene immediately answered with a 3-pointer to key the decisive third-quarter rally. The Warhawks also began crashing the boards on the offensive end, sometimes getting as many as five looks at the basket before getting a shot to drop.
Greene capped the run with a 25-foot, 3-pointer to beat the horn, giving his team a 69-44 lead entering the fourth quarter and control of the game for good. He would finish with 34 points on the night.
Senior Damion Rosser, who averaged 19.1 a night coming in, would score eight of his 20 points early in the fourth quarter, including two dunks off alley-oop passes, before the Warhawks finally pulled their starters midway through the final quarter.
"We battled with them," Peppers said. "We were hanging around and got it down to 10 and then we made a couple of turnovers. Greene is a heck of a player and they were all animals on the offensive boards. We couldn’t keep them off the glass.
"It wasn’t just one guy we could key on because they had guy after guy coming to crash the boards. We tried to jump with them, but they could just jump higher than we could and that was really the difference."
Hunter had a team-high 20 points for the Ramblers (23-5), while Kelehear finished with 13, including three 3-pointers.
Peppers inserted his entire senior class into the game midway through the fourth before taking them out as a group in the closing moments to a nice round of applause from the nearly 100 LaFayette supporters who made the 150-mile trip.
"I’m so proud of these seniors," Peppers said of Hunter, LaTrail McClinic, LaTavious McClinic, Payton Teems and Austin Shropshire. "I’ll miss them everyday. They’re special kids and they have layed down a strong foundation for us to build on for hopefully years to come.
"It always stings after a loss and unless you win state, you’re probably going to end the season with a loss. But we’re still all very proud. If you look at what we’ve accomplished this year with our youth and lack of significant size, it was an incredible year."