Justin Sumpter and Sandy Creek got a huge win over Fayette Co. (Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)
Any hype leading up to Saturday night's battle between Sandy Creek and Fayette County was well deserved as the Patriots won a major clash 58-51.
Anyone in attendance, and there were plenty with a capacity crowd on hand, knew they were watching two of the state's finest as they battled back and forth. Others must have been taking notice as the next day, the AJC had Sandy Creek and Fayette County numbers two and three, respectively, in their first AAAA rankings of the year. The Patriots are a sterling 9-2 now. Coach Willie Reese has them fully turned around and a major force in just his second year at the helm. The Tigers are 8-2, including a win in the Dorman Classic, and back at the top of their game as always under Andre Flynn. This could be the start of a fun rivalry this season.
"It was a very hard fought game," said Reese after the win. "Both teams played well. We were fortunate that the ball dropped our way tonight."
Anytime you can beat a team like Fayette to start off region play it's good, but the Patriots will keep it in perspective.
"We're taking it one game at a time," Reese said. "Fayette is an extremely, extremely good team. We just wanted to play hard."
The athleticism on both sides made the first half a defensive battle as Sandy Creek would hold a 19-14 lead heading into the locker rooms.
The half did have it's share of fireworks. Fayette's Dante Sterling scored the game's first points on a massive one hand jam in the face of the defender. FC's Chaz Berry and SC's Justin Sumpter each had a massive block to bring the crowd to their feet.
Myles Jenkins of SC sent the Patriots out strong, first draining a three, then feeding Javon Jackson for the half's last bucket on a sweet, behind the back feed.
Sterling then heated up for the Tigers, scoring 26 of his game-high 28 points in the second half. Another jam and a three ball from Sterling would trim the deficit to 24-23 early in the third.
Brandon Lindsey stepped up in return for his Patriots, leading the way with 19 points. His first score of the night was his most spectacular, a three with a foul that turned into a four point play. He had plenty of firepower left down the stretch. A pair of Lindsey scores, one on a pull-up jumper and one on a steal and layup, combined with a three by Javon Jackson to put his team back ahead six points.
A Nick Egona putback and a CJ Johnson three would spur the Tigers to a 34-32 advantage, their first since they lead 2-0, heading into the final frame.
The momentum switched back and forth early in the fourth as a Sterling three was sandwiched in between long balls by Jackson and Lindsey.
Sandy Creek got in the bonus with four minutes left in the game and took care of business down the stretch.
Christian Turner's drive to the hoop put the Patriots ahead 47-40 with two minutes to play. Jackson then followed up with a pair of clutch plays. He calmly sank two big free throws to keep the lead at seven, then on the defensive end he came up with a huge swipe to dislodge the ball. Lindsey swooped in for the steal, then hit a pair of free throws of his own after a foul. Jamal Lain put the bow on the victory with a two hand jam and a 53-42 lead.
The rest came down to finishing things off at the charity stripe in the big win.
Fayette County will get their shot at revenge when they host the Patriots on Friday, January 24.
In the early game, the Lady Tigers turned up the heat in the second half for a 45-28 win over Sandy Creek.
A low scoring first half saw Fayette take an 18-14 lead into halftime. From there they upped the defensive intensity and put the Patriots away. A 13-2 run in the third quarter would help put the game out of reach.
"I think both teams came out a little flat," said Fayette coach John Strickland. "We picked it up. We turned it up a notch. It's really good to see that."
One key cog in the turnaround was the play of guard Nayla Battle who wreaked havoc on the defensive end in the second half.
"She stepped up big," Strickland said. "Nayla battled. She was a little slow getting going, but she stepped up the intensity."
Whitney Williams picked up a pair of big buckets and Kayla Smith drained a three as Fayette stretched their lead to 33-20 after the third quarter.
Aaliyah Davis led the charge for the Tigers to start the fourth, hitting a jumper at the top of the key and adding a putback to run the lead to 19 points.
In defeat, Sandy Creek got a number of strong efforts. One of the best was Tyler Green who had a great game as a disruptive force in the paint.