Morgan boys overcome stiff challenge from Patriots

After catching an alley-oop pass from Tyrin Lawrence, Bulldogs senior Anthony Cooper slams home a dunk to help pad Morgan’s lead in the fourth quarter.

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard

justin@lakeoconeenews.us

 

The Heritage High School boys basketball team traveled to Madison last Saturday night and gave the Morgan Bulldogs its best effort.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, their best effort just wasn’t enough for Morgan, which won 64-49 thanks in no small part to the work of dynamic juniors Alec Woodard and Tyrin Lawrence. The duo combined for 43 points and buoyed the Bulldogs when they needed it most.

“They came out and they tested us early,” Lawrence said. “I'm just glad we found a way at the end to stretch out the lead and get a win.”

Morgan’s contest with Heritage was tight throughout. As a matter of fact, the Patriots led 10-8 through the first quarter and, at times, forced unusual errors by the Bulldogs.

A couple of Patriots felt the gravity of the situation. They were just 5-6 and led what was, at that point, a 14-0 team on the road. A win would’ve been a major upset.

That prompted a little trash talk from some of the Heritage players. One comment criticized the Bulldogs’ winning streak because Morgan doesn’t have too many wins by large margins.

The Bulldogs heard their opponents. Early in the fourth quarter, Woodard made a big shot in the paint and yelled in celebration, helping turn up the intensity. Woodard’s reaction paled in comparison to what came moments later from a Heritage player.

After sinking a big 3-pointer, one of the Patriots turned to the crowd, yelled and flashed his middle fingers. His antics drew a technical foul and sent Woodard to the foul line.

Woodard went 0-for-3 from the charity stripe in the first half. He went 6-for-7 in the second half, four of which came during the final period.

“I was actually kind of prayerful that he would come through from the free throw line because, early on in the game, he missed a few that usually he doesn't miss,” said Morgan head coach Jamond Sims. “He's roughly about 90 percent from the free throw line, up until tonight. We just had to get him going in more of a rhythm because he didn't get going from the field as far as his jump shot tonight. He did a better job putting the ball on the floor, attacking the basket and drawing contact. We needed that.”

Those late-game free throws were crucial in the Bulldogs’ win. Without them, control of the game could have stayed in Heritage’s favor.

Woodard broke out last season during the state playoffs and has been a key component of the Bulldogs’ offense this season. He’s been in those big spots plenty of times before, so going to the line Saturday after struggling in that area all night didn’t faze him.

“I'm just trying to execute and hit the free throws,” Woodard said. “I've been there so many times it's just like muscle memory to me now. It's not really a big thing anymore.”

Woodard finished the night with 18 points, good for second-best among the Bulldogs. Lawrence led Morgan with 25 points.

Lawrence had his jump shot working early and often. He came through late in the game, too, dropping 11 fourth-quarter points. Lawrence said he trusted the hard work he puts in during practice while shooting late in the contest.

He said he’d “practiced for those types of moments” all his life and he’s glad it paid off and he helped the Bulldogs get the victory.

“I just tried to come in and assert myself, as usual,” Lawrence said. “I'm just glad a couple shots went in. I missed a few but I'm just glad a few went in, especially in the fourth quarter, and I'm just glad we've got the win.”

As for the banter from the Patriots, Lawrence said it all started early when the Bulldogs took free throws. Although Lawrence said Morgan’s players won’t let it go unnoticed, they tend to put their heads down and handle business.

“We've just got to keep our composure and stay focused on the goal,” Lawrence said. “We talk back a little but we're good at staying focused and getting the job done.”

Sims said that’s exactly the kind of approach he wants out of his players.

“The biggest thing is we were able to maintain our composure when a couple of their players started mouthing off a little bit,” Sims said. “We made sure we told our guys, 'Look, we're not gonna get caught up in that. If the ball is not going through the basket, there's nothing you can do. But as soon as you get a technical foul, that usually changes the tempo of the game.' Before you knew it, [Heritage] got one and we were able to make a few free throws and that kind of got us going.”

Woodard said the main reason he and his teammates did not engage in the trash talk to a great extent is because they know it could hurt them if they go overboard with it. Such was the case with the Heritage player who flipped off the crowd.

“We're just two competitive teams going at it,” Woodard said. “You know how everybody talks and everything. But we don't want to go and stoop to their levels because we know that, if we do, it may end up costing us the game, such as they did. They stooped down below us and they actually cost themselves the game, which turned over into, like, a 6-0 run or 12-0 run at the end.”

Lawrence missed last Friday’s game at Hart, a 62-53 win, with a left ankle injury. Following Saturday’s game, Lawrence had his ankle wrapped in ice and said he was at “about 80 percent.”

Junior Stevin Greene missed the game at Hart, too, and did not enter the Heritage game until early in the second quarter and did not log his usual number of minutes. Sims said Greene was “just a little bit tired,” so he was on scheduled rest.

Greene still scored 8 points in his limited action and recorded a couple of critical steals in the fourth quarter. Seniors Quin Williams and Tre’Mon Moore scored 5 and 4 points, respectively. Senior K.J. Wyatt made a free throw, as did Yusuf Baig. Although senior Anthony Cooper only scored 2 points, they came on a thunderous dunk off an alley-oop pass from Lawrence, which helped energize the Morgan gym in the late stages and give the Bulldogs even more juice on offense.

The Bulldogs move forward with their perfect record intact. They hosted East Jackson (11-6 entering the week) this past Tuesday and will welcome Monroe Area (10-3 entering the week) for two key Region 8-AAA matchups.

Sims said there’s one key area in which he wants to see improvement from his players.

“We're just gonna concentrate on nothing but half-court execution,” he said. “We know we can get out and we can run full-court with the best of them, we can get out in transition and get layups but when it's region playoff time and state playoff time, can you settle down, come to half-court and get a bucket when you need it based upon whatever offensive set you call. So, the further and further we get into the season, it's gonna be all about nothing but half-court execution.”

Lawrence said he wants the Bulldogs to become a more consistently stout defensive team. He said Morgan has stumbled out of the gate at times and have to settle in as the game goes on.

That, along with uncharacteristic turnovers, is what led to Saturday’s close result. Woodard said he doesn’t believe those mistakes will become the norm for his team.

“I'm confident that we'll put that behind us and move on to the next game, the next step, whatever that is,” he said.

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