DALTON – The Jefferson boys basketball team was better prepared for Friday’s state quarterfinal contest than they thought, and it had nothing to do with a gameplan.
In the region final against Riverside, the Dragons pulled out a one-point win with six seconds left. In the first round of state, they won by one on a shot with four seconds left and in the round of 16, they won by only two points.
Each of the three served them well down the stretch in the Dragons come-from-behind 65-58 win against Callaway in the state quarterfinals Friday at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton.
With the win, Jefferson will play the winner of tonight’s Thomasville-Henry County game at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Class AA state semifinals at the Macon Centreplex in Macon.
“This feels great,” said Jefferson coach Bolling DuBose, who’s coached at Jefferson for 34 years and will be making his second appearance in the state semifinals with the program. “This year we felt like at the beginning of the season that we had a good team, but you can’t predict something like this.”
“We knew we had great guys to build around with Darius (Minor) and J.J. Damons, but we didn’t really know what could happen.”
Minor and Damons made it clear Friday night that they were worthy of building a team around.
Minor scored a game-high 26 points, 11 in the fourth quarter, and Damons scored 13, hitting 5-of-6 free throws in the last two minutes of the game to seal the win.
“Darius Minor was unbelievable tonight,” DuBose said, “and J.J. proved that this team has no quit in it.”
After a slow start offensively, Jefferson tied the score at 19 on a jumper by Tyler Bailey, and a back-and-forth battle ensued.
Each team took leads, none by more than four points and Callaway held a three-point lead going into the final period.
With just under four minutes remaining in the game and possibly its season, Jefferson made its move. A layup by Tate Chesser gave the Dragons a one-point lead with 3:40 left and free throws by Minor pushed their lead to five with 2:30 left in the game.
From that point on, good ballhandling accompanied by sharp passes and made free throws was the name of the game for the Region 8-AA champions.
Along with Damons hitting 5-of-6 free throws in the fourth quarter, Minor went 4 for 4 from the charity stripe while the rest of the team went 2 for 4.
Jefferson also managed to only turn the ball over twice in the fourth quarter en route to its 18th straight win.
“We talked yesterday that two things were going to decide this game,” DuBose said. “Handling the ball against (Callaway’s) pressure and staying on the boards with them.
“We did a good job not turning the ball over and did a great job on the boards and blocking them out. I couldn’t be prouder of our effort on the boards tonight and I couldn’t be prouder of this team.”