These Dogs will hunt

By Justin Hubbard

 

In the days leading into last Saturday’s marquee showdown between the basketball teams of Morgan County and Newton County, the hype swelled.

There were countless Facebook posts centered around the impending showdown games. People murmured about the possibility of a sellout crowd coming out to see the action. Shoot, some folks even spread a rumor that FOX 5 was planning to visit Madison to report on the games. (That ultimately did not happen; fortunately, I was there for Lake Oconee News, so the best regional news outlet in the state was still represented regardless.)

When I arrived to the Morgan County gym, I found there were two admissions gates as opposed to just one. I had to formally check in and have my name checked on a list. It felt as if I was covering a Georgia football game or something else of that magnitude.

I say all that to say this: The Morgan-Newton games were as hyped as possible last week and everyone who attended the games and those helping the school host them treated them as such. It was really cool seeing so many people turn out to watch our local games.

I’ll admit, though, a part of me wondered whether the games would live up to the billing. No disrespect to either of the Morgan County teams, but Newton is a Class AAAAAAA powerhouse and, presumably, faces tougher competition than the Bulldogs and Lady Dogs face in Class AAA. I knew it probably would not happen, but I thought there was a chance the Rams and Lady Rams could embarrass Morgan’s teams on their home floor.

I was so, so wrong.

The Lady Dogs lost, 65-57, as did the Bulldogs, 65-61. I don’t care about that, though. What I’m concerned with is the fact each of those teams went toe-to-toe with two of the best teams Class AAAAAAA has to offer and almost won. They were both maybe four or five plays away from recording major upsets.

To my knowledge, Morgan County basketball had never before hosted Newton County. I hope we go from that to making this a yearly matchup, possibly via home-and-home scheduling.

Saturday’s game was packed, producing the first-ever sellout in the history of Morgan’s newer gym. The crowd was electric, too, with audible bursts following every big moment. I’m not the only person who said this, but it doesn’t make it less true: Saturday’s boys game felt like a state tournament game.

It had the on-court action to fit the atmosphere, too, along with great individual performances. Newton’s Tyler Glover dropped 18 points and shined for the Rams.

It was Morgan junior Alec Woodard, though, who stole the show with his 33-point outing. Woodard made a critical shot late in the fourth quarter and the crowd roared. I looked at a friend of mine who was standing courtside with me and we each had goosebumps running down our arms.

The girls game’s atmosphere was slightly less buzzing, though there were still some great moments and crowd reactions down the stretch. The ovation Miranda Powell got when she nailed a game-tying 3-pointer in the fourth quarter was fun.

What made this such a unique matchup, though, was the fact Newton County brought a ton of fans. Morgan definitely had a home court advantage but there were plenty of Rams fans to go around. And it wasn’t like other big games Morgan hosts against traditional rivals where the fans and players seemed to dislike each other; this was more like a couple of neighbors playing a raucous, yet respectful, game of pickup.

I don’t know whether the Morgan County girls can snap out of this funk where they lose close games. I don’t know for a fact if the boys will make another run to the state title game. I think both of those things can and will happen.

What I know, however, is both these teams are, once again, great. This has the makings of another special season of basketball in Madison.

Neither of Morgan’s teams has looked perfect at any point this season but I think we all know, especially after the way they played Newton, they can hang with anybody.

Buckle up, folks. This could be a heck of a ride.

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