ALBANY -- It's exam time over at Monroe High and the Tornadoes got one of those all-nighters Friday in an early season region test that pushed them to the limit.
Monroe, The Herald's No. 1-ranked boys team, saw its first loss of the season roll off the rim on a Crisp County overtime miss and then survived with a 70-65 win in a double overtime Region 1-AAA thriller.
"Our motto all the time is 'Be Strong,'" said Tornadoes head coach Marquis Davis, whose team is now 5-0. "I thought that's what we did in the last overtime. I think that was very good for us. We needed that. I thought they passed the test."
Crisp County's Stefano Felton hit a huge 3-pointer to tie the game at 54-54 with 1:33 left in regulation and neither team could find the basket before the first overtime began. The four minutes in the first OT wasn't enough to settle this one, though, but 4:01 might have been.
After Jabari McGhee sank two free throws to tie the game at 58-58 with 50 seconds left in the first overtime, the Cougars missed on their end but Crisp's DJ Jackson stole the ball in the final seconds and had a breakaway layup chance at the buzzer but rushed the shot, which rolled off the rim at the horn to send the game to double OT.
"We had a chance in that first overtime and we just missed the basket," Crisp head coach Terry Lewis said. "It gives us great confidence coming over here to Dougherty County, where they play good basketball, (and nearly winning). They battled and it was a great game. I enjoyed it."
Nobody enjoyed it more than Monroe's Bamba Dioum, who had struggled in the first few games of the year, but came up big for the Tornadoes (4-0, 2-0 Region 1-AAA) in the final overtime.
Dioum, a West Africa native who transferred in from Chicago this offseason, drained a 3 to open the second overtime and made two free throws in the final minute on his way to 17 points.
"The coaches prepared me for a situation like that," Dioum said. "I'm with a real good coaching staff as well as good players. I have so much around me and so many players that can help me out. It's a really good feeling."
Davis said he hopes Dioum, a junior reserve early in the season, uses this game as a launching pad.
"He's been really working hard," Davis said of Dioum. "He had a slow start our first three games, but I think this might be a breakout game."
Monroe led, 44-33, after the third quarter, but Crisp County (1-2, 0-1 Region 1-AAA) decided to put the ball in the hands of its playermaker, junior Jontavious Carter, who blistered Monroe for 24 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Carter scored 11 in the fourth quarter Cougars comeback.
Monroe senior Carlos Brown scored all nine of the Tornadoes' first-quarter points and finished with 14. McGhee, who sprained his ankle late but may be able to play today at home against Terrell County, led Monroe with 21 points and 12 rebounds. The eraser and Herald Super 6er, Rantavious Gilbert, finished with seven blocks, six points and five rebounds.
Crisp County, which also got 14 points from Jackson, hoped to make a statement it belongs in the same conversation as the Big 3 from Albany -- Monroe, Westover and Dougherty.
"We've got 11 more region games to go," Lewis said. "This is just one game. It's a long season. That's the great thing about basketball."
Monroe, meanwhile, has to turn around and face Class A power and neighboring Terrell County today at 7:30 p.m.
"We better get some good rest," Davis said. "We're going to have to because I know (the Greenwave) are coming."
MONROE GIRLS 59, CRISP COUNTY 53:
The Herald No. 2 Lady Tornadoes trailed by six at halftime but used a 13-0 run to flip the script and win their first region game of the year.
During a 10-minute period in the third and fourth quarters, Monroe (4-3, 1-1 Region 1-AAA) outscored Crisp County 25-6 to open up a 14-point lead in the final quarter. The Lady Tornadoes' duo of senior Ashley Johnson and junior Sheniqua Young helped to put Crisp County (1-2, 0-1 Region 1-AAA) away.
Young scored a game-high 19 points and was deadly from long range with five 3s. Johnson finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.
"Ashley is more of an all-around player," Lady Tornadoes head coach Cheryl Cheeks said. "She gives us a total game with rebounding and putbacks. Sheniqua has what I call 'quiet points' because sometimes I don't realize she has as many as she has. She does a great job with her outside shooting."
Crisp County post player Nasheena Oliver bullied Monroe in the first half with 12 points, but was slowed in the final 16 minutes with just six to finish with 18 points. Oliver also had eight rebounds and three blocks.
Monroe takes on Terrell County today at 6 p.m.