AMERICUS -- There Robert Cotton Jr. was Saturday, in the visitor's locker room of the gym he coached for four years at Americus-Sumter High School, and his Crisp County Cougars were down, 42-19, at halftime.
He did not say a word for five minutes.
"You could hear a pin drop," he said.
Cotton went 65-42 during those four years at Americus-Sumter, including a run to the GHSA Class AAAA Sweet 16 in 2006. On Saturday, however Cotton found his team getting blown out by Americus-Sumter, which is now coached by his former assistant, Michael Coley.
Then, Cotton spoke.
"I told them this was not about me, this was about our program," Cotton said. "We're not going to quit."
After his team was outscored, 21-4, in the second quarter, Cotton's words resonated. In return, the
The Cougars pulled within 11, 63-52, by the end of the third quarter and then stormed past the Panthers, outscoring them 42-13 during the final eight minutes for a 94-76 victory in front of a capacity crowd.
Cougars sophomore Johntavius Carter led the charge, finishing with 31 points.
"In the second quarter, we were slipping, but (Cotton) told me to play like a D-1 prospect, and that's what I did," Carter said.
Carter's one-handed dunk with 3:43 left in the game gave the Cougars their first lead of the game, and their momentum only grew from there. In the span 90 seconds, Crisp County's lead grew to seven, 78-71, as D.J. Jackson scored on a two-handed dunk with 2:12 left.
Coley, who shook hands with Cotton before the game, gave credit to his mentor.
"I really wanted this game," Coley said. "The crowd was great, but it was really just my players against his players. Coach Cotton is a great coach. I worked under him for four years, and I hope our team can learn from a loss like this."
Coley was then left trying to make sense out of what happened in the second half.
"I don't know if we came out too relaxed or what after halftime," Coley said. "I knew Coach Cotton would have his team playing hard in the second half."
During the second quarter, it appeared that Americus-Sumter was going to cruise to an easy victory as it outscored the Cougars, 17-0. A 3-pointer by Tyler Moore gave Americus-Sumter a 30-15 lead, and Deonte Fulks added a layup a short time later to make it 38-15. Fulks led the Panthers with 20 points, followed by James Burton with 17 and Keldrik Cochran with 15.
Crisp County scored their first points of the quarter when none other than Carter scored on a tip-in with 1:28 left before halftime.
The Cougars switched to a man-to-man defense, however, and the tide turned. And once Crisp County took the lead, Americus-Sumter lost its composure.
"An old coach once told me you never burn a bridge, you always leave a mark," Cotton said. "And at 10:06 p.m. (Saturday), I left my mark."
CRISP COUNTY GIRLS 65, AMERICUS-SUMTER 63:
Jayme Gilbert scored a career-high 43 points, including a 3-pointer with a second remaining to bring the Lady Panthers within two, but she could only do so much.
"We only scored three points from our post players," Americus-Sumter girls coach Evelyn Wright said. "Jayme got no help, whatsoever."
Gilbert felt the team's ball-handling was a big factor in the loss.
"Turnovers hurt us a great deal," said Gilbert, whose team committed 20, including 13 in the second half. "We needed to settle down, but we weren't able to do that."
Crisp County's Monique Grant, however, had a big night for the Lady Cougars with 29 points, followed by Kedra Green (17) and Adranna Dennard (11).