Westover’s T.J. Cromer, left, came up big for The Herald No. 4 Patriots on Friday night, leading the way with 17 points in a revenge win against Thomasville and Mitchell Christie, 54-48, at Westover. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY -- T.J.Cromer woke up Friday morning thinking about one thing.
"Twenty-four points,'' Cromer said.
He's been carrying that number around with him for two weeks.
"I'm a sore loser,'' Cromer said. "I hate to lose.''
Just take a look at what happened Friday night at the Boston Garden, where Westover shocked Thomasville, 54-48, in front of a loud home court crowd.
That's right, Thomasville -- the same Thomasville team that opened the season two weeks ago by hammering Westover, 71-47. That 24-point loss stuck with Cromer, who struck back Friday.
Cromer, a newcomer to the Patriots' program who came to Westover from Tift County, hit two 3s early in the game and nailed a pair of crucial free throws in the final minute of the game to finish with a team-high 17 points.
Cromer also finished with a smile that stretched from Northwest Albany across the state.
That's Thomasville, ranked No. 4 in the coaches Class AA state poll, and a team that has its eyes on winning the state title. Westover has its eyes on getting better.
And the Patriots took a big step Friday.
"We needed this. We needed this game bad,'' said Kenneth Towns, who banged inside all night against Thomasville's big front line that includes Willie Clayton, one of the best big men in this part of Georgia. "This is really going to help our confidence.''
The Patriots are just 3-2 after the win, but this could be a turning point early in the season. It was at least a classic turnaround.
"They looked like they were in midseason form,'' Thomasville coach Ben Tillman said. "They played hard the first time we played them, and they played hard (Friday). They did a better job on the boards. They blocked out a lot better, and they made free throws.''
Free throws were big for Westover, which made 16 of 29, including 10 of 16 in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
If there was a turning point it came midway in the third quarter when Westover, which wrestled Thomasville to a 10-10 tie after the first and a 21-21 tie at halftime, bounced back from a 31-23 deficit to rip off a 13-2 run to end the third.
That's when Brandon Hudson took over.
"We were down and just felt like I needed to step up and help my team,'' said Hudson, who started driving past Thomasville's big front time and time again. He not only got the Bulldogs into foul trouble and put the Patriots into a bonus situation, he also scored seven of Westover's final 10 points in the quarter and hit a 12-foot jumper to top off a 6-0 run that lifted Westover to the 36-33 lead. The Patriots never trailed again.
"I told them at halftime we needed to start taking the ball to the hole and get them in foul trouble,'' Westover coach Dallis Smith said. "Brandon did a good job (of that).''
Hudson finished with 12 points, and Josh Black finished with 11. Towns scored six points, and grabbed eight rebounds and blocked a shot to help Westover's inside game.
"They killed us on the boards in the first game. They just had so many second shots,'' Smith said. "We did a better job this game.''
Thomasville outrebounded Westover 23-12 in the first half but only 18-15 in the second half as the Patriots took control.
No one ever stops Clayton, but Westover slowed him down in the second half. He opened the game by personally outrebounding Westover, 7-6, in the first quarter and went to halftime with nine points and 10 rebounds.
But while Clayton, who finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds, was dominating inside in the first half, Westover's guards -- Cromer and Black -- were keeping the Patriots alive. Cromer (10 points) and Black (seven) combined for 17 of Westover's 21 first-half points.
The message was clear, Westover was not going to lose by 24.
"I really wanted to see how they would respond after losing that first game,'' said Smith, who is still looking for chemistry with his new team, which returned only two starters and added Cromer. "They played hard and fought. And we played better together. They ran our system better.''
They played so well together that Westover won on a night when Herald Super 6er Dequan Green didn't score a point.
"Green didn't have a good game,'' Smith said. "So when we get him in the mix, and we cut down on our turnovers we will have the opportunity to be a good team.''
The Patriots were tough when they had to be late in the game. Kel Miller gave the Patriots a 43-36 lead with 5:44 left but Clayton and Gary Wimberly hit back-to-back drives to close to 45-44 with 2:32 left. Cromer hit a drive and after a turnover, Hudson nailed two free throws to lift Westover to a 49-44 cushion.
Towns hit a drive to give Westover a 51-46 lead with 42 seconds left, but Clayton's putback with 26 seconds left closed to 51-48. Cromer answered with a pair of free throws with 25 seconds left to all but ice it.
"This win showed people we're still here,'' Hudson said. 'They have been downing us this year, and we have to prove them wrong.''
It's that attitude at Westover, where the Patriots are always a power, combined with some new found chemistry that had the kids believing this win would carry some momentum.
"We had to play as a team,'' Cromer said. "It's hard to stop us when we play as a team and play with heart.''
WESTOVER GIRLS 47, THOMASVILLE 30: Herald Super 6er DyTiesha Dunson finished the night with just seven points as a couple of new kids on the block -- sophomores Mykesa Smith (10 points) and Denea Cheatham (nine points) -- led Westover in scoring.
Make no mistake, this is still Dunson's team. She isn't just the straw that stirs the drink. She's the blender.
"Dunson is the real deal,'' Thomasville coach Thomas McAboy said after the loss. "She scored only seven points, but she's the reason they got the other 40.
"I love her attitude. I love her drive. I love the way she plays,'' he said. "She's out there doing everything to help her team win. She does a great job of being a leader on the court. She is what a point guard should be.''
Thomasville, which was missing its top player, Khybriah Brown, who is out with a knee injury, was led by Laneisha Douglas, who hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to finish with 15 points.
Westover, The Herald's No. 1-ranked team, is now 7-0. The Lady Patriots started last year with a 12-0 record before losing to Thomasville.
Westover meets Worth County at home on Tuesday.