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GHSA CLASS AA BOYS STATE TOURNAMENT: Indians ease into Sweet 16

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Archie Chatmon didn't have to smack his lips or rub his hands. It was perfectly clear what he meant.

"That tastes good,'' said Chatmon with a mile-wide smile just after his Albany High Indians had beaten East Laurens, 55-39, in the first round of the GHSA Class AA state playoffs Saturday.

It was meal for the ages -- a feast, a banquet and more for Albany High, which hadn't won a playoff game in more than six years.

"I know that tasted good,'' Chatmon said. "I just want my players to taste it. I want them to gobble this up, and taste every bit of it -- the good, the bad and the ugly. Our kids haven't been here, and I want them to feel every moment of this. I want them to taste every grunt, every elbow in the chest and eat it all up. I want them to feel it, taste it and gobble it up so they will want to come back.''

That's the idea at Albany High, where there is a deep and rich basketball tradition. Chatmon will be the first to tell you it's been missing, and he wants it back -- wants it back like he wants nothing else.

That's why Saturday's first-round win at Albany High felt so good, so right and so right on time. Chatmon has a team loaded with juniors, and he wants them to be hungry for the playoffs every year.

He wants Albany High to be back in the spotlight.

And that's exactly where the Indians are today.

Three of Albany's four public school boys teams fell in the first round Saturday as Monroe, which was ranked No. 1 in The Herald for most of the season, Dougherty, a top five team in The Herald all year, and Westover, the program with the richest tradition, have all been knocked out of the state playoffs.

Now, Albany High's boys are all alone in the Good Life City.

How good does that taste?

The No. 2 seeded Indians (15-11) will play Wednesday at No. 1 seed Lamar County at a time yet to be determined.

The Indians didn't let experience in the playoffs bother them Saturday. East Laurens (19-10), a No. 3 seed, was making its 13th consecutive appearance in the state playoffs and fully expected to win the game.

"That's pedigree there,'' Chatmon said of East Laurens, which looked experienced when the Falcons ran off a 14-0 sprint to close out the half with a 23-19 lead.

Albany led early and when Tim Pierce hit a spinning drive with five minutes left in the half, Albany was up, 19-9. But the Indians missed their final seven shots and all four of their free throws to end the half.

"We got out of what we do,'' Chatmon said. "We were driving to the basket and we had control of the game, then all of a sudden we became a jump-shooting team. We (couldn't hit a shot) and they took control of the game. I told our kids at halftime we have to play our game.''

They listened.

The Indians took over in the third with a fist-tight defense and some impressive drives, holding East Laurens scoreless for almost four minutes and only allowed six points in the quarter. In fact, after the Falcons' 14-point run in the second quarter, they scored only 16 points for the rest of the night.

"I thought our defense in the third quarter gave us control of the game,'' said Chatmon. "They didn't score a basket for a long time.''

Chatmon has a long-standing policy and doesn't allow his players to speak to the media. He has had the policy for years and winning or losing in the playoffs has nothing to do with it.

The Indians did their talking on the court, and when Kenny Anderson busted a 3-pointer with 2:20 left in the third it completed an 11-2 run that lifted Albany to a 30-25 lead, and the Indians were off and running.

Anderson finished with eight points and eight rebounds and Pierce finished with 15 points. Larry Sanford also scored 15 for Albany, and made one of those game-changing plays at the end of the third.

Albany was leading, 30-27, with 40 seconds left in the third when Sanford blocked guard Kenny Phillips' shot, which started a fast break that ended with a pass to Sanford.

Jacory Cason intentionally fouled Sanford, who hit both free throws with 35 seconds left, and the Indians cashed in on the possession when Anderson hit a put-back with 20 seconds left. The Falcons scored to close to 35-29, but Sanford ended the quarter with a long 3 at the buzzer and suddenly it was a 37-29 game with the Sanford-led flurry in the final 40 seconds. Albany never looked back and built the lead to 16 points and put the game away with free throws.

Phillips led east Laurens with 13 points and Cason added 10, but the Falcons were never in it after Sanford's blocked and Albany's late rush in the third.

"This win means a lot,'' Chatmon said. "I asked them after the game: 'Is this special, or not?' Our kids haven't been here, and yes this is special.''