Prep Basketball: Newnan takes another 'big step', advance to title game
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
Another year, another giant "step" for Newnan's boys basketball team.
Two seasons after winning just three games in his first season as head coach, Rod Ladd's Cougars put themselves one victory away from earning a region championship following Thursday's clutch 65-58 effort over No. 2 seed Douglas County during the 3-AAAAAA tournament semifinals held at East Coweta's John Thrower Gym.
The two lineups — which split regular season meetings — alternated leads five times in the opening period before Dean helped Newnan take control for good during a 25-point surge that include contributions from seven Cougars.
"It was a good team win for us. Our motto the whole year has been 'next man up.' That second quarter we hit some shots and I thought our defense was good in the second half," said Ladd, whose team clinched its second straight trip to the state tournament after finishing fourth in Region 2-AAAAA in 2011-12.
"We got back in the state playoffs last year. This is another big step for us," Ladd said.
Newnan advances to Saturday's 8:30 p.m. championship game at ECHS against surprising No. 5 seed Tri-Cities, which upset top-seeded and state ranked Westlake 73-71 in a late semifinal. Last year, the Cougars were the tournament Cinderalla after ousting Langston Hughes with a thrilling overtime win in the first round.
(To view photos from this game, visit http://photos.times-herald.com/mycapture and click on Sports for the Photo Gallery.)
This time, however, a large nucleus of Ladd's returners was able to advance again by gradually turning a 16-15 advantage after one quarter into a 12-point hole for Douglas County, who had to rely on Bridges to keep the Tigers afloat. The 6-foot-3 Tiger junior forward had nine of his team's 14 points in the second period.
To its credit, a Douglas County lineup that included just one senior starter fought back from a 12-point halftime deficit in the second half, using a 10-0 run to pull within three points in the third and then a single basket with 5:35 to play, trailing 52-50.
Newnan, though, put the game away with six unanswered points, capped off by Dean's three pointer and a layup by 6-foot-8 center Immanuel Griggs off a fed from Newnan guard Kaceon Person to make it 58-50 as the Tigers got no closer from a five-point deficit from there on.
Dean matched Douglas County's Bridges point-for-point in the second quarter while fueling the offense with two baskets and an assist to Griggs, the latter for a 22-17 lead.
Griggs kept Newnan from wilting early by scoring six of his 14 points in the opening quarter as the Cougars watched Douglas County invert a 4-0 start to the game with eight consecutive points of its own to begin the swing of early lead changes.
A three-point play by Dean off a layup kept Newnan pushing forward in the second quarter before talented 6-6 freshman Jannson Williams' putback of another shot from the Cougar make it 29-21. Darrell Morrow's clutch 3-pointer coming off a transition that began when Dean got his hands on a Tiger player's shot attempt gave the team its first 10-point lead with just under four minutes left in the first half.
Both Chris White, seeing an increase of playing time late in the season, and fellow junior Tonaris Portress – in his first game back from a head injury suffered against Westlake on Feb. 1 — deposited offensive rebounds late in the second quarter to push ahead by 12.
White added a clutch 3-pointer just prior to the third quarter buzzer to take a 52-46 advantage into the fourth quarter. it came just moments after Bridges hit one of Douglas County's seven 3-pointers. They included a pair from freshman Kalen Clifton, who added 14 points for the Tigers, who play the loser of Thursday's late semifinal game on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at East Coweta.
SCORING SUMMARY – Newnan 65, Douglas County 58
Newnan 16 25 11 13 — 65
Douglas County 15 14 17 12 — 58
Newnan 65 (17-9) – Kaceon Person 5 1-2 11, Darrell Morrow 2 0-0 5, Immanuel Griggs 7 0-2 14, Jannson Williams 2 1-2 5, Doniel Dean 8 3-3 20, Chris White 2 0-0 5, Tonaris Portress 1 0-0 2, Tae Parks 1 1-4 3. Totals 28 6-13 65.
Douglas County 58 (15-11) – Cory Tillery 2 0-0 6, Brandon Robinson 4 0-0 9, Kalen Clifton 6 0-0 14, Justin Bridges 9 3-6 25, Tevin Lighy 1 0-0 2, Deondre Glenn 1 0-0 2. Totals 23 3-6 58.