No matter how captivating the final few moments of their boys basketball game against Swainsboro appeared Friday night, Laney's players will wake up this morning regretting how the game began.
Swainsboro dealt the Wildcats a thrilling 71-69 defeat Friday night in a Region 3-AA contest mostly because the Tigers jumped ahead early and continued to hustle during the moments they could barely bring the ball up the court aginst Laney's pressure. It was the first home loss by a boys or girls Laney team in at least two seasons.
"I told the guys before the game that if you want to win a state title, you have to come in and win in places like this," said Swainsboro coach LeRoy Jordan, whose team led 19-10 after one quarter and by six points at halftime.
Laney trailed almost the entire first three quarters before claiming its first significant lead 43 seconds into the final quarter. Its pressure defense forced two turnovers in the first minute of the quarter and seemed to be gaining momentum.
But Swainsboro regrouped and never trailed after Devin Leach nailed a 3-pointer with a little more than three minutes to play. Laney threatened to steal the lead or extend the game multiple times.
Laney junior Rod Hall, whose drives to the basket were mostly unstoppable all night, appeared to sink the tying bucket with five seconds left, but officials waved it off because Swainsboro junior Maurice Strong took a charge.
"First charge he's taken all year," said Jordan, smiling. "I guess he was tired of doing push-ups in practice."
Hall led all scorers with 28 points.
Laney girls coach Otis Smart was honored between games for winning his 600th game earlier this season. Smart's team improved to 4-0 with a 86-52 win over Swainsboro. The Wildcats, who have only two seniors on the roster, own three blowout wins and a victory over what is expected to be a strong North Augusta team.
Smart, who now has 602 career wins, has high expectations for this team.
"We need to continue working," he said. "They need to work on a whole lot of things: boxing out, shot selection and playing defense with their hands up.
"But I appreciate the way they are exerting themselves."
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.