Devils take fifth at National Prep Classic

WESTWEGO, (La.) — Tift County, the second ranked team in Georgia Class AAAAAA, went west 400 miles to compete in the fifth annual Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic to compete against some of the best teams in Louisiana to prepare themselves for the state tournament — a tournament the Blue Devils would like to win again after taking the state title last season. Tift dropped a tough, two point loss to Riverside in the second round of the tournament. Riverside was the two-time defending champion of the tournament and the current Louisiana state champion. The Runnin’ Rebels played no. 2 nationally ranked Montverde Academy late Saturday night. Tift would defeat 4A quarterfinalist Salmen (La.) by one to advance in the consolation bracket.

On Saturday, the Devils hooked up with current 4A champion Landry-Walker and their big man, Tulane signee, Blake Paul. Tift County completely dismantled Paul and the Chargin’ Bucs, 43-28 at the Alario Center to garner a fifth place tie in the 14-team tournament that featured six championship teams. Landry-Walker (13-9) was held nearly 30 points below their tournament average by a Tift team that executed precisely on the defensive end in half court situations.

“We knew it would be a very physical tournament,” Tift coach Dr. Eric Holland said immediately following the game Saturday. “I tell my guys, ‘Our offense may not be there every night, but we can play strong defense every game,’ and we were able to do that (in the tournament).” The Devils held their opponents to under 40 points per game, one of the best among the tournament.

Tyrie Jackson averaged 16.7 points in Tift's three games at the tournament.

Tyrie Jackson averaged 16.7 points in Tift’s three games at the tournament.

Tift (17-1) would take an early 3-0 lead at the 6:15 mark of the opening frame, when Tyrie Jackson hit a three-pointer. P.J. Horne would add back-to-back buckets, including a dunk after the Chargin’ Bucs took their only lead of the game with just under five minutes to play in the opening quarter. Tift would lead 9-6 at the end of the first period behind five points from Jackson and four points from Horne. In the second period, Landry-Walker would rally to tie the game on two separate occasions, the final one at the 2:55 mark of the half on a bucket by Tirrell Gilmore to even the score at 13-13. Over the final two minutes of the half, the Devils would make their mark and seize control of the game for good.

Deion White hit an open three and Jackson would hit a two and a trey before he found Horne on a drive and dish as the first half horn sounded. The 10-0 Devil surge would give Tift a 23-13 lead at halftime, as the tight Blue Devil defense would hold Paul, the 6-feet-9 Tulane signee scoreless and without a blocked shot in the first half.

Tift would extend the lead even farther out in the third period, holding a 16-point lead early in the period and at the end of the quarter. Jackson hit a three, Horne dunked on an alley-oop from Micah Johnson and Johnson also added a pair of free throws in the quarter. Hayden Mullinax also assisted Horne on an easy bucket, as Tift led the Chargin’ Bucs 35-19 after three quarters.

Tift would equal their biggest lead of 16 with just under seven minutes left in the game, before Landry-Walker made one final push at the Devil lead with a 7-0 run of their own. The final hoop of the run, made by Lamar Peters with 4:19 remaining, would be the last points of the game by Landry-Walker. Tift would close a 6-0 run to win the game, with a basket scored by Quay Green and four Johnson free throws, as the Devils improved to 2-1 in the ultra-tough tournament.

The Devils were whistled for only six fouls in the game, while Landry-Walker had 13 fouls called against them. Tift went 7-of-11 at the line and the Chargin’ Bucs would go 0-for-4. Jackson led Tift with 16 points, Horne would add 14 and Johnson would chip in with six. Jackson averaged 16.7 points in the tournament, while Horne averaged 14.7. The duo, along with Johnson, would combine for 37.7 of the Devils’ 44.3 points scored per game in the tournament.

Tift will return to action Friday at home against region rival Colquitt County, a team that has not defeated the Devils in basketball since the 2000-2001 season.

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