ALBANY -- Macon is only about 90 miles away, and the way Monroe is running these days, it might get there in a matter of minutes.
OK, so the Herald No. 1 Tornadoes aren't that fast. But they're fast enough and tall enough and quick enough -- and they might just be good enough -- to get to Macon for a Final Four.
A Final Four that looks more and more like it has Monroe's name on it.
Anyone who doubts that should have been at the Albany Civic Center, where Monroe simply ran by Dougherty and just kept running Tuesday night in a 66-43 rout that no one expected.
This was Dougherty -- ranked No. 4 in The Herald's Top 5 Poll and considered one of the top teams in Southwest Georgia -- the same Trojans team that just beat Westover and Albany High last week. The same Dougherty team that lost to Monroe, 59-51, on Jan. 7 in a game that was much closer.
This game was not.
And they did most of the damage without Herald Super 6er Rantavious Gilbert, who picked up three quick fouls and barely played. The 6-foot-8 human shot-blocker finished the game with one block and just two rebounds.
The only question left is this: Can Monroe play any better?
"We can play better,'' Monroe coach Marquis Davis said. "That was a good team effort. Even with Rantavious getting into foul trouble early, we had a good game from our starters and our bench. We prepare everyone. You never know when your time will come.''
Monroe's time could be now.
It's almost impossible to prepare for Jabari McGhee, who had a monster game for Monroe, dropping in 24 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking five shots. Call it a double-double and a half.
Whatever you call it, make sure you're smiling when you say it, because Monroe couldn't have had much more fun than blowing a city and region rival off the court.
It was no fun for Dougherty (9-6), which fell to 4-6 in the Region 1-AAA race as the teams began the final two weeks of the regular season.
It's a stretch run for Monroe, which has been ranked No. 1 in The Herald all year and is looking more and more like the team to beat in this part of the state.
"I had to step up,'' said McGhee, who filled the void left by Gilbert. "He does a lot of big things. When a key player isn't in there, you just have to step up.''
Monroe also got a big game from Bamba Dioum, who scored 14 points, point guard Ted Hosley (9 points) and guard Daniel House, who just broke into the starting lineup last week. House scored four points and grabbed five rebounds.
"Daniel House has stepped up the last two games,'' Davis said. "He's one of the smartest basketball players I've ever coached.''
Dougherty coach Donald Poole didn't have much to say after the loss.
"I'm not saying anything,'' Poole said.
The Trojans, who got only three baskets and 13 points from Super 6er McArthur Gaines, took a 15-13 lead early in the second quarter, then Monroe ripped off a 12-5 run that included a couple of fast breaks and a rare 3-pointer from McGhee to lead, 28-22, at halftime.
The Tornadoes were just getting started. They led, 50-32, after three, and were up by as much as 26 in the fourth.
"Yeah, that was a big 3,'' said McGhee of the run in the second quarter. "But there were a lot of other things (in that run). There were some scrappy baskets, some little baskets.''
That's where Monroe is these days, grabbing everything that's loose and running with it.
"We're trying to get everything we can in transition. Our offense thrives off our transition game," said Davis, whose team was running early in the season then slowed down in the middle part of the schedule.
Not any more.
"We're running,'' said McGhee, smiling. "We're running the floor, and we're getting a feel for it.''
It feels good -- real good for the Tornadoes -- the running Tornadoes, who are now 19-3 and atop the Region 1-AAA race at 7-2.
They've won seven in a row and face Cairo at home Friday before a big showdown in Dawson on Saturday night against Herald No. 3 Terrell County. Then they have the big rematch with their biggest rival, Westover, next Tuesday back at the Civic Center.
"We're in the stretch toward the region (tournament),'' Davis said. "The last couple of games we've done a real good job -- (just) a good job overall.''
DOUGHERTY GIRLS 53, MONROE 47:
Jayla Hooper is feeling just fine these days.
Monroe? Not so much.
It was Hooper who gave Monroe fits all night Tuesday as Dougherty won a crucial Region 1-AAA game at the Civic Center, where Hooper scored 24 points and pulled down 19 rebounds after coming back from an off-night against Albany High and a bout with the flu.
"I can't think of a better way to get over the flu than to have a game like this,'' said Hooper, a junior for the Herald No. 4 Lady Trojans. "I didn't have a good game against Albany (on Saturday). I had to redeem myself. I worked really hard in practice to get ready for Monroe.
"It was a big game, a big region game.''
Dougherty also had a big night from Jasmine Lavant, who scored 13 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots. But Hooper was there every time Dougherty (14-6 overall, 6-4 in 1-AAA) needed a big basket or a rebound.
"It's the sign of a competitive player, the way she came back (from the Albany game),'' Dougherty coach Charlene Jackson said. "She has a love of the game and the desire to always do better.
"This was a big win. Monroe is a good team, and those girls fight really hard. We made some big defensive plays down the stretch.''
Monroe made only 15 of 3 free throws and went 3-for-10 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter when the game was in doubt.
"We missed too many free throws, and in the second half we got away from what we were trying to do,'' Monroe coach Cheryl Cheeks said.
Monroe was led by Ashley Johnson, who scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and made five steals for a Monroe defense that forced 33 turnovers. Davone Anduze scored 10 points and made six steals for Monroe. Super 6er Sheniqua Young got into foul trouble early and played less than a half. She finished with eight points.