Monroe players crowd together and celebrate on the middle of the Civic Center floor Saturday night following the Tornadoes’ second win in eight days against city rival Westover. Monroe, which is ranked No. 1 in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll, not only beat the No. 2 Patriots again — the Nada’s trounced them, this time, 52-38, in the U Save It Tournament finals.
ALBANY — Jabari McGhee just kept getting higher and higher, rising above the hype, the rivalry and the large crowd at the Civic Center.
There he was, high above the rim, spinning and slamming in a reverse dunk to end Monroe’s dramatic 52-38 win in the finals against rival Westover in the U Save It Pharmacy Boys Basketball Tournament.
McGhee couldn’t have been much higher.
Neither could Monroe.
The Herald’s No.-1 ranked Tornadoes are 10-0 and flying. They have beaten No. 2 Westover, their biggest rival, twice in eight days, and they’re playing a brand of defense that is as good as any in Georgia.
The Nadas just don’t give up nada when it counts. They have had incredible stretches of stingy defense in their first 10 games, but nothing like Saturday when they held Westover scoreless for more than seven minutes in the fourth quarter to take over the game. The Patriots went more than four minutes during that stretch without even getting off a shot.
“That’s the best defense we’ve played all year,’’ said Hakeem “Wal-Mart” Porter, who came off the bench and gave Monroe a huge lift inside. “We didn’t even know they (went that long without a shot). That’s how good the defense was going. We were just playing hard.’’
Hard, harder and hardest might be the best way to describe Monroe’s effort in the second half when the Tornadoes turned a 25-20 halftime deficit into an 14-point win.
And in the middle of the storm was McGhee, who was named the MVP of the tournament after playing a game he’ll never forget. Not only did he score 29 points — and hit one big shot after another — but he grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked two shots, had three steals and handed out four assists.
“He was amazing,’’ Porter said.
There was no argument about that.
“He showed great leadership,’’ Monroe coach Marquis Davis said of McGhee, who is a two-time Herald Super 6er. “He has had some great games this year, and he had one (Saturday). Tim White gave us a great effort along with Hakeem Porter. He’s an inside presence.”
McGhee said it was White, Porter and the rest of the Tornadoes who had him playing above the rim all night. White was inspirational on defense, where he blocked five shots. He also grabbed seven rebounds and tipped several others away from Westover. He and Porter combined for 11 points, but all of them seemed to come at the right time for Monroe, including a big put-back by Porter at the buzzer to end the third quarter, giving the Nadas a 34-30 lead.
“My teammates get me fired up,’’ McGhee said. “They say I fire them up, but they fire me up. I had to have a big game. I had to do it for my teammates.”
Monroe set the pace for the second half in the first minute of the third quarter when the Tornadoes forced three turnovers and turned the ball over to McGhee, who hit three quick drives for a lightning-fast six points and a 26-25 lead.
“We got those three turnovers to start the second half, and we capitalized on every one them for six points,’’ McGhee said. “We were down by five and got three turnovers, and (suddenly) were up by one. That gave us a lot of momentum, and once we got the lead, we had to keep it going.”
Westover turned the ball over 13 times in the second half, including five times during their four-minute stretch when the Patriots failed to get off a shot.
Westover knotted the score at 36-36 when Kyle Baker completed an and-one play with 7:28 left in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t take another shot until T.J. Cromer missed a jumper with three minutes left in the game.
Monroe combined a steel-trap defense with some patience on offense and took over as the Tornadoes took their time — and time off the clock — with each possession.
“Those three turnovers gave us momentum coming out of the half,’’ Davis said. “And they were in a zone, and I told our players not to put pressure on ourselves — but to take their time and be patient.”
Westover didn’t score a point for more than seven minutes — from Baker’s drive with 7:28 left in the game until Cromer slammed home a dunk with 24 seconds left in the game.
“We went out in the second half and gave them three turnovers — just gave them to them — and gave them six points,’’ Westover coach Dallis Smith said. “I knew we would be emotionally drained after playing two back-to-back games (in the tournament that went to the wire). But still, we have to have more fight.’’
Herald Super 6er Kel Miller led Westover with 14 points, and fellow Super 6er Cromer scored 12. They both made the all-tournament team.
No one on either team scored much except for McGhee, who has now scored 54 points in two games against Westover. He dropped in 25 in Monroe’s 70-63 win last week.
It’s always big when Monroe and Westover meet, and Davis was especially pleased with the tournament title.
“It means a lot, winning the tournament is good for our fans. We hadn’t won this tournament in a couple of years,’’ Davis said.
And beating Westover twice in eight days isn’t bad, either.
“It’s 2-0, and that means something now,’’ Davis said. “But it won’t mean anything when we play them again.’’
That next showdown is Jan. 12.
ALBANY HIGH 59, MANCHESTER 58: Albany High (6-4) won the fifth-place game with a comeback.
The Indians were trailing, 58-57, with 1.6 seconds left when Joshua Anderson put up a 3-pointer. He was fouled on the play and went to the line, where he missed his first free throw. Then Anderson promptly hit the next two free throws to lift Albany to the win against Manchester (6-2), which played in the Class AA state title game last year and entered the tournament with a 5-0 record.
Anderson finished the game with nine points as did Emanuel Byrd and Malik Dungee-Ali.
STATESBORO 67, DOUGHERTY 44: Statesboro bounced back to win the third-place game, thanks to a 22-point effort from Zaquarzian Smith, who was named to the all-tournament team. Dougherty was led by Shunwaski Wheeler, who hit six treys to account for all 18 of his points.