LAKELAND -- Monroe's perfect season hit a bump in the road Thursday night -- make that a big hard rock in the road -- in the presence of Lanier County's state-ranked Bulldogs, who edged the Tornadoes, 60-52, in the final game of the Lakeland New Year's Eve Invitational in the Lanier gym, where the packed crowd was rocking until the end.
Big crowd, big game, a tense ending.
"They have a great crowd,'' Monroe coach Marquis Davis said. "It reminds me of the crowd we faced last year in the playoffs when we played in LaGrange. Lanier played very hard. You have to execute against them. You can't make mistakes. But I'm still very proud of my team.''
Monroe, which had given up only 129 points during four tournament games (that's an average of 32.2 points per game) over the last two weeks in three games in the U-Save-It Holiday Classic and the first game of the New Year's Eve Invitational, can play defense with anyone.
Nothing came easy on Thursday, but Lanier County, a big, physical team, managed to pull away from a close game in the final seconds by hitting one free throw after another to turn a tight game into an eight-point win. Jabari McGhee led the Tornadoes with 13 points and was named to the all-tournament team.
"It was a close game, nip and tuck the whole way,'' Davis said. "We missed a couple of shots at the end and they made free throws. But it was a real good game.''
Monroe's Tornadoes beat Berrien, 63-36, Wednesday night in their first game of the Invitational to improve to 10-0, but Lanier, ranked No. 8 in the Class A coaches poll, ended Monroe's perfect start.
"I'm real proud of the way we have played,'' said Davis, who brought back just one starter and yet had his team ready from the opening tipoff with a new lineup this season. "I've very proud of them wining 10 of 11 games.''
Monroe, ranked No. 1 in The Herald and No. 8 in the Class AAA coaches poll, will take something from this loss.
"Lanier County plays with a lot of energy,'' said Davis, who has played a wide variety of teams in two holiday classic tournaments over the past two weeks. "It was a very good game, and a very good test for us.
"We have seen some good guard play (during this stretch), and we're gelling as a team over the tournament at Albany and this tournament. That should help us going into next Tuesday's game against Worth County. We're going into the region.''
"It is a big week for Monroe, which plays two huge Region 1-AAA games. The Tornadoes play Worth on Tuesday and then meet city rival and Herald No. 4 Dougherty (5-1) on Friday at the Albany Civic Center as part of a monster doubleheader that will feature Monroe and Dougherty and Herald No. 3 Westover against Thomasville, which is ranked No. 3 in the Class AA coaches poll.
DOUGHERTY GIRLS 42, BRYAN COUNTY 32:
TIFTON -- Kiandria Gilford (12 points) led a balanced Lady Trojan offense as Dougherty won the Brewton-Parker Christmas Classic, 42-32, against Bryan County on Thursday.
"It's most definitely a team effort," Dougherty head coach Charlene Jackson said. "The whole team didn't give up against a team with only one loss. They were 9-1 going into this game. I really think we made adjustments at halftime and totally executed and did the things we asked them to do. ... To win the championship, the kids were just delighted and excited and added a lot to their execution."
Jayla Hooper added 11 points and 10 rebounds and Shawtal Byrd had 10 points as the Lady Trojans improved to 8-2 on the season.
"We played as well as (I could expect)," Jackson said. "It prepares us for region play. I've been telling people all along that you can't teach experience, but you can play (and learn it). And that's what tournaments like this after Christmas (do). It gives them more experience."
Hooper and Byrd were named to the All-Tournament Team for Dougherty, which plays again on Jan. 4 against Crisp County.