Commerce vs. St. Francis
When: 7:15 tonight
Records: Commerce (22-7); St. Francis (13-15)
Seeds: Commerce No. 1 Region 8-A; St. Francis No. 2 Region 7-A
Coaches: Commerce, Chad Bridges. St. Francis, Cabral Huff.
Key players: Commerce, PG Tyler Gamble (6-0, Jr.); SG Bubba Bonds (5-10, Jr.); PG Anthony Norris (6-2, Jr.). St. Francis, PF Chris Hawkins (6-4, Sr.); SF Nick Grant (6-4, Sr.).
Outlook: Commerce’s historic season continues tonight after the Tigers won their first home playoff game in school history on Friday, thanks to a pair of Bonds free throws 2.4 seconds left.
The 54-52 win over Our Lady of Mercy in the first round was the fifth straight win in a streak that includes the Tigers’ first region title since 1981.
Tonight’s game might seem like a mismatch at first glance, but St. Francis’ losing record is a bit misleading, as the Knights proved in a 61-34 win over Mount Zion-Carroll in the first round.
Of the Knights’ 15 losses, six came against top-10 teams, and three more were to Region 7-A champ Providence Christian.
The game should provide an interesting contrast of styles: St. Francis leans heavily on its size (five Knights are listed at 6-3 or taller), while Commerce gets the bulk of its production from a deep and athletic backcourt.
Jefferson vs. Westminster
When: 7 tonight
Records: Jefferson (23-6); Westminster (15-13)
Seeds: Jefferson No. 1 Region 8-AA; Westminster No. 3 Region 6-AA
Coaches: Jefferson, Bolling DuBose. Westminster, Daniel Searl.
Key players: Jefferson, PG Darius Minor (6-1, Sr.); PF J.J. Damons (6-2, Sr.); SG David Watson (6-0, Jr.). Westminster, SG Maalik Reynolds (6-6, Sr.); SF Malcom Chester (6-2, Sr.).
Outlook: Depending on how you look at it, Jefferson is either living the dream or living on borrowed time.
Either way, DuBose would prefer they not have to wait until the final seconds to take the lead tonight.
The Dragons won the region championship by virtue of a J.J. Damons three-point play in the waning seconds, and defeated Manchester in the first round thanks to a tip-in from Watson with six seconds left.
“You don’t want to have too many like that,” DuBose said, “because eventually it’s going to break the other way.”
In each of their last two games, Watson has come off the bench to play a significant role. He posted a team-high 21 points in the first round, including the last five points of the game.
Tonight’s challenge is clear to the Dragons — speed up the game. Westminster edged Dade County 83-81 in an up-and-down game, but with a a deep roster featuring six players 6-foot-4 or taller, the Wildcats prefer a slower, half-court game.
“We’re going to have to get points off our press, because in half-court sets, they’re going to have a big size advantage,” DuBose said.
Equally as important will be crashing the defensive boards to limit Westminster’s second-chance opportunities.
Offensively, Reynolds, a Penn signee, is the Wildcats’ go-to player.
Johnson at Riverwood
When: 7 tonight
Records: Johnson (16-12); Riverwood (18-12)
Seeds: Johnson No. 4 Region 7-AAA; Riverwood No. 2 Region 5-AAA
Coaches: Johnson, Jeff Steele. Riverwood, Michael Mezzio.
Key players: Johnson, SF Tre Dudley (6-1, Sr.); SG Grant Cagle (6-4, Sr.); C E.J. Wright (6-4, Sr.). Riverwood, SG Alex Vital (6-0, Sr.); PF Kyle Davidson (6-5, Sr.); PF Julian Johnson (6-5, Sr.).
Outlook: By reaching the second round of the state tournament, the Knights have already achieved more than any Johnson team in the last five years.
Another win, and they’ll have achieved more than any team in Johnson history.
Though no Knights team has ever reached the quarterfinals, Steele said his team’s focus is treating tonight’s game the same as any other — that means playing with the same kind of tenacity that helped the Knights overcome a nine-point deficit in the final four minutes of the team’s first round win over 6-AAA champion Carrollton.
“I feel like we just wanted it more than they did,” Steele said.
Johnson may need a similar effort against Riverwood, which Steele said features a solid corps of rebounders, including Johnson and Davidson.
He also pointed out Vital, “as the guy that makes them go.”
“He does a good job of getting into the lane and getting the ball where it needs to be,” Steele said.
Riverwood advanced to the second round with a 63-44 win over Morgan County.
North Hall vs. Franklin Co.
When: 7 tonight
Records: North Hall (23-3); Franklin County (19-10)
Seeds: North Hall, No. 1 Region 7-AAA; Franklin County, No. 2 Region 8-AAA
Coaches: North Hall, Benjie Wood. Franklin County, Harry Marsh.
Key players: North Hall, SF Chase Syfan (6-0, Sr.); SG Chris Barnes (5-8, Jr.); C Robbie Hill (5-10, Sr.); PG Lance White (5-8, So.). Franklin County, SF KeShaun Mayfield (6-3, Jr.); C Dale Walker (6-4, Sr.); SG Austin Farrow (5-10, Jr.).
Outlook: Entering tonight’s game, the seventh-ranked Trojans are riding an eight-game win streak, while Franklin County has won four of its last five. That one loss came in the Region 8 tournament, where the Lions were demolished by Elbert County, 73-30.
In their first-round win, the Trojans used balanced scoring (11 players scored) and a tough defense that forced 24 turnovers to defeat Central-Carroll 70-42 in the opening round, and they will need that type of game tonight to beat a team that handed Elbert County one of its two losses.
These two teams played in the first round of last year’s playoffs and North Hall won by 10 points.
West Hall vs. Elbert County
When: 7 tonight
Records: West Hall (19-11); Elbert County (26-2)
Seeds: West Hall No. 2 Region 7-AAA; Elbert County No. 1 Region 8-AAA
Coaches: West Hall, Warren Sellers. Elbert County, Larry Brown.
Key players: West Hall, PF Shunquez Stephens (6-5, Jr.); PG Jarquise Young (5-7, Jr.); C William Stroup (6-6, Jr.); PF Dylan Bartlett (6-4, Sr.). Elbert County, SF Rod Rucker (6-5, Sr.); SG Sergeo Harper (6-0, Jr.); PF Tray Heard (6-3, Sr.).
Outlook: Scan the Internet for any information about Elbert County, and the name Rod Rucker will show up the most; after all, it’s not every day that a high school basketball player shatters a backboard on a dunk.
While it’s unlikely that Rucker will accomplish that feat again tonight, the Spartans still have to worry about the Blue Devils’ best player, who scored 27 points and had 24 rebounds in the first round against Druid Hills. Stephens, Stroup and Dylan Bartlett will be the primary Spartans defending Rucker, who has led his team to 22 straight wins.
Stephens leads the Spartans, and his 25-point, 16-rebound performance in the first round was the main reason why West Hall has the opportunity to play the fourth-ranked Blue Devils.