Jaguars on and off the court left Turner-Neathery Gymnasium on Feb. 26 with memories that will last for ages.
After trailing 29 of the 32 minutes of the game, Cedar Shoals (27-3) triumphed to victory to defeat the Lithonia Bulldogs (26-4) 50-47 in the Class 5-A Elite 8 matchup.
“I just know we got the best city,” senior guard Tyler “Chip” Johnson said about the roaring crowd inside. “Thankful for all the support they [the fans] show us, there’s no other place like Athens.”
While Johnson was all smiles after the game, he was not nearly as excited when the Bulldogs barked out to a 13-4 lead with 6:40 left to go in the first half. Taking fast-paced risks, Lithonia’s quick defensive playstyle proved to be a nuisance for Cedar’s offense, neutralizing senior Quincy Canty in the first half and holding him scoreless to that point.
“They [Lithonia] like to get up close and personal with defense,” said senior forward Quincy Canty about the Jags’ woes of missed shots and cough-ups of the ball.
“We knew that they’re known for being aggressive as far as swatting, rebounds, fouling,” Canty said. “And you know, it’s state playoffs, so they’re (the referees) not going to call it.”
With only three seconds left to go in the half, 4-star rated senior point guard Eric Gaines missed a 3-point attempt but drew a foul off Cedar sophomore guard Kashik Brown After hitting all three free throws, Gaines stole Brown’s pass from Johnson’s inbound pass, converting a finger roll to give the Bulldogs a halftime lead of 23-17.
Brown, who finished the game with 6 points and 2 steals, did not dwell on his mistakes and used it as fuel for confidence.
“I said to myself, ‘that play is over, let’s just go out and do it better,” said Brown.
Brown’s optimism was contagious to his teammates.
“I wasn’t really worried, because I knew at the end of the day we were going to get the W,” said Johnson, ending his night with 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 steals.
ELECTRIC: The crowd at Turner-Neathery Gymnasium reacts to the game. The passionate Cedar fan base encouraged the team the entire game. “It’s just one of those things where you gotta put everything in memories and just get ready to close that book up,” Canty said. Photo by Alexis Lemus.
Cedar still struggled to find its offensive groove in the third quarter until Johnson sank the team’s first 3-pointer to put the Jaguars within 7 points with 1:20 left in the third quarter.
Alongside the efforts of sophomore guard Jerdavian Colbert (12 points), Canty was reborn out of his first-half lockdown where Bulldog players double and tripled teamed him anytime he got the ball. The two gave The Shoals the firepower they needed in the 4th quarter to put themselves in the right position.
“My adrenaline was already going and at that point in the second half I was starting to get a flow,” Canty said. His 21 points in the second half led his team in scoring.
Canty hit a 3-pointer with 5:29 left in the game to cap the Jags’ 7-2 run, and Colbert’s layup at 2:49 gave the Jaguars a 41-40 lead. This was Cedar’s first lead since senior point guard, Jamal McIntosh’s opening basket in the first quarter. McIntosh spent much of the game on the bench in foul trouble.
“They wanted to play fast so we had to slow the game down,” Johnson said. The Jaguars outscored the Bulldogs 20-9 in the fourth, playing patient defense and finding quality looks on offense.
With the game tied at 43 apiece with 30 seconds left, Colbert found Canty at the top of the key for a clutch 3-pointer.
“I saw the space that they gave me and I was like ‘oh yeah, this is for sure a knockdown,’ so I just shot it with confidence and it went in,” Canty said. The shot sealed Canty’s last home game, and the Jaguars remain undefeated at home in his senior season.
After Johnson’s pair of free throws to seal the game, the team celebrated their thriller comeback victory on the court with the fans as the buzzer sounded. Just as the Jags entered their locker room celebrating, Lithonia forward Raheem Swain made an inappropriate gesture that erupted the crowd, leading to tension and several fights.
With the win, Cedar now establishes itself as a basketball program with a highly regarded reputation: the fourth time in six seasons the Jaguars advanced to the state semi-finals.
Next up, the Jaguars aren’t done leaving their mark as they travel to Fort Valley State University to face the Southwest Dekalb Panthers (19-12) and 4-star 6’6” point guard, Eugene Brown III who is committed to The Ohio State University.
The Panthers barely fought off Clarke Central 52-50 in overtime in the quarterfinals.
“The only person that we’re looking out for is Eugene, that’s their main guy,” said Canty. “Everyone else on the team is a role player, really if we shut him down we shut their own team down.”
TENSION: Lithonia senior forward Raheem Swain is held back by police. Swain initiated the controversy after the game. Photo by Alexis Lemus