OAKWOOD — After the game, Jamaad Stephens deferred to his older brother Shunquez Stephens.
It was the other way around during West Hall’s 68-35 win over Oconee County on Thursday during the Region 8-AAA tournament.
With the Warriors (5-20, No. 5 seed Region 8B-AAA) keying in on his older brother and the team’s second-leading scorer Jarquise Young, the younger Stephens took advantage of wide-open shots to score a game-high 22 points and lead the second-ranked Spartans (22-4, No. 1 seed Region 8B-AAA) back into the Class AAA state tournament and a win away from playing for a region championship.
“You leave him open, he’s going to make shots,” Shunquez Stephens said of his brother, who wanted the senior to talk instead of him. “We know what they were trying to do on defense and I guess their strategy backfired on them.”
Jamaad Stephens’ night didn’t start off too well, as the sophomore southpaw missed his first two wide-open 3-pointers that exemplified West Hall’s first-half shooting woes. The Spartans shot 38 percent from the floor and went 2-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half.
“They’re defense was somewhat confusing,” said Shunquez Stephens, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. “We struggled with that in the first half.”
Because of those struggles, the Spartans relied on their speed and defense, specifically the full-court press, to go on a 16-0 run that started in the first quarter and ended midway through the second after back-to-back dazzling drives and lay-ins from Young, who was held to six points, but had five assists.
“He distributed the ball well,” said West Hall coach Warren Sellers, whose team has reached the second round of the state tournament in two straight years. “He did a good job of getting people involved.”
In total, nine Spartans scored Thursday, including senior Dre Pou, who had nine points and three rebounds.
Sellers knows he’s going to need the same type of performance tonight against Monroe Area, who defeated No. 2 seed White County to qualify for the state tournament and set up the third meeting with West Hall this year. The Spartans won both meetings this year by an average of 14.5 points. In the last meeting, West Hall won by 19, but that was when the Hurricanes were without the services of 6-5 big man Stephon Tuitt.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Stephens said. “The first time we played, he fouled out. The second time we played, he didn’t. We’re just going to have to go with the flow and see how the game plays out.”
Monroe Area stands in the way of a return to the region championship, which West Hall played for last year when it was in Region 7-AAA. Winning a region title is now the sole focus of the Spartans now that they can cross off getting to state on their list of to-dos.
“In this region, with 13 teams and some really talented ones, it’s always good to get to the state tournament,” Sellers said. “That was our first goal, and now we want to get to the region championship game.
“We’ve never won a region title in the boys program,” he added. “It’s going to be a tough challenge, but that’s our goal.”
MONROE AREA BOYS 52, WHITE COUNTY 38: The Warriors turnaround season came to an end Thursday with a loss to the Hurricanes in the Region 8-AAA tournament in Oakwood.
Eddie Hurst and Ashely Lowery scored 10 points each to lead White County, which finished 16-9 and earned the No. 2 seed from the north subregion. This was White County’s first winning season since 2006-07.
Ken Jackson led Monroe Area (20-7, No. 3 seed Region 8B-AAA) with 20 points, while Demond Smith added 12.