Albany’s Tyrone Culbreth grabs a rebound during Friday’s monster Region 1-AA game at Thomasville. The Herald No. 1 Indians won, avenging an earlier loss to the Bulldogs.
THOMASVILLE — By the time you read this, Albany High will have already put its biggest win of the season in the rear view mirror.
Sure, Friday’s 56-48 win against Thomasville was big, even huge. Sure, it broke the tie at the top of Region 1-AA, where Albany High is still No. 1 at 9-1, and Thomasville sits in second at 8-2 after the loss.
Sure, the win avenged a heartbreaking 37-36 loss to Thomasville at Darton last month in a game that Albany High led by four points with 38 seconds left. And sure, sure sure, the Indians needed and wanted to beat the three-time defending region champs as badly as anyone — especially on the road.
So break out the party balloons for the celebration, right?
Nope, not this time.
“It’s a shame we don’t get to enjoy this one,’’ Albany High coach Archie Chatmon said right after the game. “We’ll get to celebrate for about an hour, about the time it takes us to get back home.”
Chatmon then added: “That’s how long it will last. By the time we get off the bus it will be over.’’
Chatmon and his kids have no choice. The Indians, 18-2 and ranked No. 1 in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll and No. 5 in the Class AA state poll, face Herald No. 2 and ninth-ranked Early County at 7 tonight in the Civic Center. Just take a look at those region standings. Albany High and Thomasville have split their two games, and the difference is Early County split with Thomasville, handing the Bulldogs their other region loss.
Now Albany High, which beat Early County in Blakely, needs to beat the Bobcats to maintain the one-game lead against Thomasville. After Early, the Indians have one region game left next week against Brooks, and can all but nail down the top seed in the region with a win tonight in the Civic Center.
If Herald Super 6er Tim Pierce has anything to do with it, the Indians will take care of business. Pierce was amazing, driving and spinning into the teeth of Thomasville’s big front line, and coming away with 27 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter when the Indians finally put the game away. He made 8-of-13 shots, despite Thomasville’s smothering defense. Pierce scored just four points in the loss to Thomasville earlier this season.
And when Pierce wasn’t giving Thomasville fits, Larry Sanford, who finished with 17 points, was. Sanford and Pierce both hit remarkable shots, some off-balance, some in traffic so thick they could barely see the basket, and some in the clutch that defined the game.
“Those two guards came through,’’ Chatmon said. “We had to have them. And the other guys came through, too. We had to have this kind of game.
“Tim was the catalyst. We went to him and said, ‘It’s your time.’ The other guys were looking for him and he stepped up.’’
Afterward, there was no jumping up and down. No screaming. No hugging or dancing at midcourt. It was a tough, gutsy win, and the kids walked out of the gym, silent, knowing just how big the victory was.
It lifted the Indians right where they want to be: No. 1 in the region.
It wasn’t easy. The two teams traded the lead 13 times before Albany High slipped away. The Indians led 9-8 after one quarter and were up 19-18 at halftime and — thanks to an and-one play by Sanford at the third quarter buzzer, they led, 36-35, going into the fourth.
Thomasville took its final lead when Greg Wimberly, who scored 15 points, hit a 3 to give Thomasville a 41-40 lead with 5:40 left. But the Indians put together a six-point run on an innovative spinning drive by Sanford, a quick-hit inside basket from Emmanul Byrd, who opened the game with a block, and two Pierce free throws to take a 46-41 lead. They never trailed again.
“That was huge,’’ Chatmon said. “Once we got up we went into ‘win-mode.’ It was win time. We didn’t do that at Darton. But this time we figured out a way to win the game The first time they did. We did this time.’’
Albany High made 8-of-10 free throws in the final 49 seconds to put this one away and hold off Trey Gosier, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half. Thomasville’s 6-8 force known as Willie Clayton finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds, and played the entire game in foul trouble.
The Indians were hanging on to a 48-46 lead when Thomasville was called for an intentional foul for grabbing Tyrone Culbreth’s wrist with 49 seconds left. Culbreth hit both free throws to make it a four-point lead, and Albany High hung on and built the lead at the free throw line, where Albany went 12-for-14 in the fourth quarter.
“Pierce played a great game, and Archie does a great job with his kids,’’ Thomasville coach Ben Tillman said. “It was two good teams going at it. I’m looking forward to playing them again (in the Region 1-AA tournament).’’
THOMASVILLE GIRLS 31, ALBANY HIGH 28: The Squaws were without point guard and the team’s second leading scorer Brianna Williams, who is out with a concussion, but AHS coach Telly Turner made no excuses for the loss.
“I’m so mad, because we could have had the game,’’ she said. “We could have won. It comes down to one or two more hustling plays. We just couldn’t get the lead in the second half.’’
Albany High was led by Kairston Jackson, who scored nine of her 11 points in the fourth quarter, including hitting a 3 to close the gap to 29-28 in the final minutes. Herald Super 6er Chasity Mullins scored eight for Albany.