Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Forget the hype.

Bury all that buildup.

This case is closed.

Closed, as in slam shut.

Or better yet, slam dunked.

That's what happened Friday night in the biggest high school boys basketball game of the year in Southwest Georgia -- a rubber-match showdown that was supposed to surpass every expectation.

And it did.

At least for Westover.

They're still celebrating in Northwest Albany, where the Patriots, who have lived in the shadow of Monroe for almost the entire season, not only beat the Herald No. 1 Tornadoes -- they blew them right off the court, 80-61.

That's right, 80-61.

If anyone still wants to argue about who has the best team in Southwest Georgia, just do the math. Monroe won the first game 61-58, and now Westover has taken two in a row by a combined margin of 33 points -- a 67-53 victory at Monroe and Friday's rout that gave Westover its second consecutive Region 1-AAA title -- and all the bragging rights throughout Albany.

"It's a great rivalry, and a great win, and it means even more because its for the region title,'' said Shevren Keaton, a 5-foot-9 guard who drove right into the heart of Monroe all night and came away 19 points.

Not to mention praise from his coach.

"He was a general out there (Friday night),'' Westover coach Dallis Smith said. "Keaton makes us go. Shevren was making great decisions all night. He grew up a lot (in this game).''

When Keaton wasn't driving on Monroe, Malcolm Sapp was driving Monroe crazy. He scored 21 points and buried five 3s in Westover''s win at Monroe two weeks ago.

And Friday, he proved that'd he never cooled down.

Sapp started firing early and often, and was a big reason Westover ripped off a 15-2 lead in the first quarter. Sapp hit a pair of 3s and a 10-foot jumper during that early run that saw Monroe turn the ball over five times in the opening four minutes. Sapp never slowed down and finished the night with five 3s and a game-high 26 points. That's 10 3s and 47 points in his last two games against Monroe.

"Sapp was just being Sapp,'' Smith said. "That's what he does.''

And he does it especially well against Monroe, which is now 24-2 with both losses coming to their biggest rival. The Tornadoes were ranked No. 1 in state before Westover beat them two weeks ago, but this loss looms much larger because of the region title was on the line.

Monroe, which has not talked to the media since their only loss of the season to Westover two weeks ago, did not comment after Friday's loss.

The Tornadoes made some valiant runs to get back in the game, and closed the gap to three points at one juncture, but Westover had an answer for every Monroe run, and Keaton seemed to put an exclamation point on the night when he made two steals and fired in two baskets -- including a running floater at the buzzer -- in the final seconds of the third quarter to lift Westover to a seemingly insurmountable 58-36 lead.

"Coach Smith told us they will make a run, and when they do we have to make our run,'' Keaton said.

Smith even promised his kids they would have a run in them during halftime when Westover led just 32-26.

"I told them when they make a run, that means it's our turn to make a run,'' Smth said. "We had a run in the third quarter and we didn't stop.''

If there was a crowning moment of the night it came with 3:05 left in third when Monroe's Carlos Brown (13 points) flew to the basket to ram home a dunk. But his dunk went bouncing high off the rim, and Anthony Ball grabbed the long rebound and sent it the other way, where Onochie Ochie slammed in a two-fisted dunk that sent most of the standing-room-only crowd in the Boston Garden, named after legendary Westover coach Willie Boston, aboslutely crazy.

"Yeah, I heard the crowd, and they were really loud,'' Ochie said. "But I heard coach Smith yelling out the defense. I can always hear him.''

Ochie, who had two quick fouls and sat out the second quarter, finished with 10 points and five rebounds. Chris Wheeler finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, and guess who led Westover on the boards? Sapp, who found a way to grab eight rebounds.

"The whole starting five played great,'' Smith said.

The rest of the way, it was simply all Westover, which held Monroe's Robert Arnold, a Herald Super 6er, to just 12 points. Arnold scored 48 points combined in the first two games, including 27 in the loss. Brandon Blakely came off the bench to lead Monroe with 20 points.

Of course, the only way the two teams could meet again would be in the state final.

And at least one Westover Patriot would welcome it.

"Round 4? Yeah, that would be great,'' Smith said. "That would mean we are playing for the state championship.''