Monroe star Jabari McGhee (15) puts up a shot over the Westover defense during Friday night’s first meeting of the season between the bitter city rivals. The Herald No. 1 Tornadoes got the better of the No. 2 Pats, winning, 70-63, behind McGhee’s 25 points. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Jabari McGhee said he had no choice, no decision to make.
There was only one way to go.
All out, all night.
McGhee’s drive — in his heart and on the court — was a big reason Monroe’s Tornadoes stayed unbeaten with their biggest win of the season, a 70-63 victory against city and region rival Westover in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Monroe, where the gym was packed early and late.
“I really thought we played well as a team,’’ Monroe coach Marquis Davis said. “Good teams have good leaders, and I thought Jabari McGhee really led the Tornadoes (Friday night). It’s something we have been wanting him to do.’’
McGhee said he felt the game was on his shoulders before the tip-off.
“I felt I had to step up,’’ said McGhee, a 6-foot-7 senior who led the way with 25 points and 12 rebounds. “We needed that win. Even though we are on a (win) streak, we needed that one. We had to have that win.’’
He played like it.
“I felt I had to be the leader (in this game),’’ he added. “I had to, just had to. I had no choice.’’
Everyone seemed to have a big night for Monroe, which improved to 7-0 and 6-0 in the Region 1-AAAA race. The Tornadoes have now beaten everyone in the region except Worth and won’t play the Rams until Jan. 11.
“All of our role players did their job,’’ Davis said.
Of course, every year the Monroe-Westover game is as big as it gets, and this was no different.
Monroe came into the game ranked No. 1 in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll and Westover (5-2) No. 2, but this meant more than just a No. 1 ranking and bragging rights in Albany and Southwest Georgia.
This was a critical Region 1-AAAA game, and Monroe felt it had to win it.
“One of our goals before the season started was to be 6-0 in the region (before Christmas),’’ Davis said.
He saw big nights from every corner of the court.
Tim White exploded inside early and finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds and helped Monroe build a 32-22 halftime lead. Darrian Anderson hit two big 3s in the first half to help set the tone for Monroe, and finished with 15 points, and Darryl Anderson capped off the victory with eight points — all in the fourth quarter when Westover made its biggest run.
The two teams could meet as many and four times this season, and could face off as early as next Saturday in the championship of the U Save It Tournament at the Civic Center. They will meet at the Civic Center for their second regular season game on Jan. 12, and could meet in the Region 1-AAAA tournament at the end of the regular season.
The top-seeded boys team in the region will determine which school will host the tournament. That’s one more reason the region games between Monroe and Westover are so significant. They are No. 1 and No. 2 in the region right now.
Westover will have to shoot better to have a chance to upset Monroe. The Patriots couldn’t find the basket in the first half, going 9-for-31 from the field and finding themselves facing a 10-point halftime deficit that they never could overtake.
“We just didn’t shoot the ball well,’’ Westover coach Dallis Smith said. “And this is a shooters gym. The ball just wouldn’t drop. We dug ourselves in a hole and we couldn’t get out of it.’’
Monroe’s unrelenting defense had a lot to do with the shooting percentage, too. The Tornadoes swarmed the basket and seemed to jump out on every shooter.
“We focused on that all week in practice,’’ Davis said. “We told them to know where their shooters are. T.J. Cromer shoots the ball well. I thought we did a good job on them. I thought our defense did good job in the first half, and we hit a couple of big 3s (that helped us get going) in the first half.’’
Cromer finished with 14 points, and Kel Miller, Westover’s other outside shooting threat, led the Patriots with 17 points. C.J. Davis scored 15 for the Patriots.
But it wasn’t enough. Every time Westover made a run, someone on Monroe would answer, and there were several answers all night from just about every Tornado.
“That (Westover making runs) made us closer and winning this game brought us closer,’’ McGhee said. “We fought together. They (other Monroe players) played with heart.’’
McGhee finished the first quarter with an and-one play to lift Monroe to a 19-14 lead and then hit a shot at the buzzer to give the Tornadoes their 32-22 halftime lead. Westover closed to 40-37 after three, thanks to an eight-point quarter from Miller, who had back-to-back and-one plays to ignite a 9-2 run to end the third.
The Patriots closed to 55-53 when Miller dropped in a couple of free throws with 3:39 left in the game, but McGhee went coast-to-coast with a drive to spark the Tornadoes, who ripped off a 15-7 run that was highlighted by two drives by Darryl Anderson and a riveting assist from McGhee to Darrian Anderson, who hit a drive to lift Monroe to a 70-60 lead.
It was simply Monroe’s night — in the Monroe gym.
“This was the first time we played in our gym (in a few years),’’ said Davis, whose team has played all its big regular-season games in the Civic Center or at Darton during the past two years. “It was a special night for our fans.