Morgan boys remain undefeated

Morgan County junior Tyrin Lawrence shuffles away from a Cedar Shoals defender and knocks down a 3-pointer on his way to 35 total points.

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard

justin@lakeoconeenews.us

 

Most of the time, athletes shy away from talking about big-time goals.

They don’t want to get the proverbial buggy before the horse, so to speak. They tell you things such as, ‘We just take it one game at a time’ or ‘Our focus is on (insert next opponent).’

Such isn’t the case in Madison, though, where postseason appearances have become the standard. The Morgan County boys basketball team was off to a 6-0 start as of Tuesday, matching the 2011-12 squad’s program-record start (according to data on MaxPreps). The Bulldogs played at Jefferson on Tuesday with a chance to surpass that mark.

Following last Friday’s 75-59 win over Cedar Shoals, Morgan junior guard Tyrin Lawrence spoke about the team’s red-hot start. He didn’t say it was the result of the Bulldogs’ one-game-at-a-time mentality. He didn’t say it was necessarily because they keyed in on specifics for their opponents.

He said the team is playing at such a high level because the players want a chance to hoist the Class AAA trophy at the end of the season.

“Just all of us (are) coming together and want to win a championship,” Lawrence said. “We lost last year and we just want to go back and get it this year.”

Of course, it takes a great deal of effort to reach the playoffs, and the Bulldogs know it. Their postseason hopes aren’t a sign of arrogance or entitlement. They know they must maintain focus and continue training.

“Sprints, running – just hard work in general,” junior Alec Woodard said when describing the environment of Morgan’s practices. “We're trying to get back to the nitty gritty since we came up short last year.”

Morgan fell to Pace Academy in the state title game on March 9, 54-46. It was the Bulldogs’ fourth-straight appearance in the championship game and a win would’ve given them a second consecutive title.

So far, they have done a good job laying the foundation for another postseason run. Morgan beat Therrell (84-78), Dacula (67-65 OT), Buford (57-54), Westlake (67-61), Cedar Shoals (75-59) and Putnam County (76-38) to open the season.

Bulldogs head coach Jamond Sims said veteran leadership – and talent –enabled Morgan’s undefeated start.

“This senior group that we have, they are really, really intelligent as far as their basketball I.Q. and they bring a lot of intensity, especially on the defensive end, and they have been around the program enough to see the expectations and the amount of work that it takes,” Sims said. “Our junior class is really talented as far as their skill set, as far as being able to score the ball. ... When you jell all that together, it makes for a special group.”

Morgan’s roster features six seniors, headlined by starting center Anthony Cooper. Juniors Lawrence and Woodard are the team’s primary offensive contributors.

The duo’s prowess shined during last Friday’s game against the Jaguars. Lawrence scored 35 points and Woodard dropped 13. Both of them were on a roll during Morgan’s first few weeks of action.

Talking specifically about the Cedar Shoals game, Lawrence said he tried to establish his shot early. It worked, and his jumpers seemingly fell all night long.

“I was hitting my jump shots [Friday,” Lawrence said. “That's something I've been working on and I'm just glad to see it paying off.”

Woodard rolled through the Bulldogs’ first four or five games. They competed in the Craig Sager Memorial tournament at Dacula to open the year and Woodard won the tournament’s MVP award.

Prior to the season, Woodard conveyed his desire to be a more well-rounded shooter. After beating Cedar Shoals, Woodard said he thinks that goal brought him more confidence on the floor.

“I feel a little more confident in my shot because I've been working on it a lot lately, over the summer and during preseason before we actually started hitting the floor and lacing up,” he said.

When asked about his star juniors, Sims said both Woodard and Lawrence made strides over the offseason.

“Last season, Alec tried to put a lot of it on his shoulders because he felt like he was one of the guys that was returning from the state championship game,” Sims said. “Tyrin, once he came in last year, he kind of sat back and he kind of deferred a little bit until we just had to say, 'OK, everybody on this team is capable of scoring. There are gonna be some times that Alec is either being defended well or he might be having an off night. So, when that ball finds you, you've got to be able to score and you've got to be ready to score.'”

Despite their perfect record, the Bulldogs are not a perfect team. That’s why Sims said it’s imperative his players hone their skills even more than they’ve shown so far on the campaign.

“They have to continue to pay attention to detail,” he said. “We know that they can turn it on and score at any time, but we need them to pay attention to details as far as their defensive assignments, where they're supposed to be on the floor at all times and knowing all of their assignments on offense. We try to teach our guys we don't learn just one position – we want you to learn the whole intricacies of a particular offensive play. That way, we can put them in any given position.”

Sims won’t let his players overlook their shortcomings. It’s the reason the Morgan program has become so prestigious over the last several years.

And although the players won’t back down from state championship talk, they too know there’s always room for improvement.

“Keep continuing to work harder than anybody in AAA, anybody in the state, in practice,” Woodard said. “That should get us back to where we want to be.”

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