Malcolm Sapp was trying not to smile.
Honest. You could almost see him wanting to bite his lip before the words came pouring out of his mouth. He had been waiting a while to say it, and when he did he didn't gush as much as he belted the phrase with pride.
"I've just got one thing to say, and one thing only,'' Sapp said. "It's Westover time.''
Listen, and listen closely.
That was Westover taking down Herald No. 1 Monroe, 51-47, on Tuesday night, right there in the Albany Civic Center, where the stakes were as high as they get for the regular season.
And it was Sapp who was yelling: Timber!
He's the Tornado killer. Sapp buried Monroe twice last year in the bigger-than-life three game series between the two city rivals and state powers. And after scoring only six points in a 42-37 loss to Monroe on Jan. 14, Sapp came back to haunt Monroe again Tuesday night, drilling four 3s -- including three back-breakers in the fourth quarter -- to lead Westover to it's biggest win of the season -- a victory that all but guarantees the Patriots will be the top seed in next week's Region 1-AAA tournament and that those games will be played in the Westover gym.
"Imagine that,'' said Westover coach Dallis Smith earlier this week when the scenario was placed before him. After one of the rockiest roads in Westover's rich and long history -- a season that includes nine losses -- the Patriots can land on top of the region. That's what Tuesday's win over the Patriots' biggest rival meant.
"It is Westover time,'' echoed Dequan Green, who made his first three shots and finished with 13 points. "We wanted the region tournament at our house. Everyone has to come through the Boston Garden. It's Westover time!''
Sapp, a Herald Super 6er, finished with 23 points to take down Monroe, which finishes the regular season at 21-4 and 9-3 in the region. Westover is only 15-9, but the Patriots are 10-1 in the region and can wrap up the top seed with a win against last place Americus-Sumter on Friday at Westover.
It was a hard loss for Monroe, which has looked like a state champion-type team this season -- and still may make a run at the title.
"We just got out-hustled,'' Monroe coach Marquis Davis said. "We got out-hustled the whole ball game from start to finish.''
Westover jumped out early and never trailed, but Monroe made a push in the fourth quarter and closed to three points when Jabari McGhee, who led Monroe with 12 points and 17 rebounds, found Kevin Butler alone to close to 39-36 with 5:01. But Sapp snapped the Patriots right back.
He nailed a long 3 with 4:51 left to lift Westover to a 42-36 lead, and when the Tornadoes closed to 43-40 on a basket by Bamba Dioum with 3:30 left.
Sapp drilled another 3 with 3:10 left to make it 46-40. Then just for fun, Sapp struck again with 1:58 left, bombing in a 3 for a 49-43 lead.
Monroe never recovered.
"I was feeling it from the beginning,'' Sapp said. "I was so focused, all day at school I felt focused.''
Westover came out in flames, burning down the nets in the early stages of the game. Kenneth Towns, who had an unexpectedly huge game with 14 rebounds, hit a flying drive to start the party and every Patriot jumped in head first, especially Sapp and Green, who combined to make 6 of 8 shots in the first quarter.
It was their hot hands that set the pace as Westover made 7 of its first 10 shots, while Monroe went 0 for 5 and turned the ball over three times.
"We needed a fast start against a team like Monroe,'' Smith said. "We had a lot of energy, all night we had a lot of energy. That's half the game. You leave your heart on the floor. That's what they did.''
"He can play,'' Smith said. "That's why he's a Super 6er. There have been some games where he only took five or six shots, and I wanted him to be more aggressive. That's what he did against (Monroe on Tuesday night). He can play.''
The Patriots hit four of their first five shots, including a 3 from Sapp and raced off to a 9-0 lead before the Tornadoes knew what hit them. Finally, Ted Hosley hit a free throw with 5:15 left to get Monroe on the board, but it was 10-1 at that point.
Super 6er Rantavious Gilbert, who finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and five blocks, got the Tornadoes moving with a couple of baskets inside and the first of his many blocks and Monroe trailed by nine -- 20-11 -- at the quarter, and 30-21 at the half.
Westover shot 50 percent for the half (12-of-24) and set the pace for the night -- torrid with a chance of more heat.
Monroe was still down, 39-28, at the end of three quarters, but Gilbert opened the fourth with a dunk that ignited the Tornadoes, who went on an 8-0 run. Westover went cold, going 0-for-5 to start the fourth. But after McGhee found Butler alone to close to 39-36 at the 5:01 mark.
Then came Sapp -- again and again and again.