Monroe leading scorer and Herald Super 6er Jabari McGhee led the way Tuesday night with 23 points and 12 rebounds in a win against Americus-Sumter. McGhee and the Tornadoes, ranked No. 1 in The Herald’s Fab 5 poll, finally started their season Tuesday after a series of delays due to football and cancellations — and they started with an easy W. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — They finally unveiled the latest version of the Monroe Tornadoes on Tuesday, and this year’s model has it all — power under the hood, speed and sleek styling, and up front suspension that can handle the curves.
The question is can the 2011-12 Tornadoes handle the trip to Macon?
That’s the goal every year: Get to the Final Four in Macon and win it all, and Tuesday night’s opener was evidence of just how long and tough that road is.
Sure, Monroe — The Herald’s No.1-ranked team — won by 30, beating a much smaller Americus-Sumter team, 66-36, and Super 6er Jabari McGhee made a memorable debut, dropping in 23 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, blocking two shots, handing out two assists, and making two steals.
But McGhee, like the rest of the Tornadoes, felt it was an off night.
“I could have done a lot more to help my team,’’ he said. “I could have played better. We could have played better. We could have played harder.’’
Don’t blame McGhee.
That Monroe showroom model had plenty of rust under the hood, and at times it showed. After all, the Tornadoes have been in limbo for three weeks waiting to play their opener. Two games were postponed because of the football playoffs and last week’s game against Valdosta was canceled by Valdosta.
They waited and waited — then waited some more.
“I didn’t think we had any chemistry,’’ Monroe coach Marquis Davis said after the victory. “But that’s to be expected. We hadn’t played in three and half weeks.’’
“We were rusty,’’ he said. “Having three weeks off kind of threw us a little bit. That’s not an excuse. We just have to get it going.
“We were happy to get a game in. Everybody else was playing and we weren’t. But now is our time. We have to get after it.’’
Monroe got after it early, and never trailed. McGhee had nine points, four rebounds, an assist, a dunk and a monster blocked shot in the first quarter as Monroe raced to an 18-9 lead.
It could have been worse. Americus-Sumter’s Xavier Willis hit his first four shots to score eight of the Panthers’ first nine points, and missed only two shots from the field all night, going 8-for-10 with a pair of free throws to finish with 18 points.
Americus-Sumter (1-3) made 8-of-13 shots in the first half and was still hanging on, trailing by 10 (27-17) at halftime.
“Defensively, we didn’t play well,’’ Davis said. “We gave up too many easy baskets ... we’ve got to keep working.’’
Herald Super 6er Rantavious Gilbert didn’t start and finished with just four points and five rebounds. But he blocked three shots and altered about a dozen more. Gilbert (6-foot-8) and McGhee (6-7) towered over the Panthers, who don’t have anyone taller than 6-2.
“They just killed us on the boards,’’ Americus-Sumter coach Michael Coley said. “They have so much length. They’re a real good team and (McGhee) is every bit as good as everything that’s advertised about him.’’
It was also the Region 1-AAA opener for both teams.
Monroe had other bright spots. Nicholas Plummer, starting his first game at guard, scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds, hit a pair of 3’s and had a crowd-pleasing dunk, and Daniel House came off the bench to score eight second half points. Timothy White, who was making his first start, scored seven first quarter points to help Monroe get going.
Monroe (1-0) has a big test Friday at Crisp County in a rematch of last year’s Region 1-AAA title game, which Monroe won, 48-44.
“Crisp County is a good team,’’ Davis said. “And they’ve got a couple of games under their belt. We’re going to have to be ready.’’
AMERICUS-SUMTER GIRLS 53, MONROE 46: Everyone knows Monroe’s Lady Tornadoes like to run, but so does Americus-Sumter, which broke free from a 38-38 tie to outscore the Lady Tornadoes, 15-8, in the final three minutes of Tuesday’s Region 1-AAA opener for both teams.
“I just told them to push it up every time we got the ball,’’ Americus-Sumter coach Evelyn Wright said. “We’re going to run whenever we can. You can either run, or you can’t.’’
The Lady Panthers (4-0), who are No. 4 in The Herald’s Fab 5 poll, were flying down the court Tuesday, and either drove for a layup or created a foul down the stretch to put away Monroe (2-1), which was unbeaten and ranked No. 3 in The Herald’s Top 5 poll.
Wright’s granddaughter, Kayla Bowens, a point guard who leads the team, scored seven points in the final six minutes of the game to finish with 16 points. Ashley Howard hit 6-of-8 free throws in the fourth quarter to finish with eight points as the Lady Panthers made 10-of-17 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Kahler Fletcher, who transferred to Americus from Westover this year, hit a pair of 3s, including her opening shot in the fourth quarter, and finished with 12 points.
Herald Super 6er Sheniqua Young didn’t score in the fourth quarter and finished with 12 points. Chelsea Cox led the Lady Tornadoes with 15 points, including 12 in the second half.
“It wasn’t so much that they were running, it was that we weren’t getting back,’’ Monroe coach Cheryl Cheeks said. “It was just missed assignments. And we missed too many easy shots.’’
Wright said she knew why Monroe couldn’t buy a basket down the stretch.
“They were out of gas,’’ she said.