Albany's Tyrone Culbreth (30) blocks a shot against Early County on Tuesday night during The Herald No. 1 Indians' 65-57 win against the No. 2 Bobcats. Culbreth finished with 18 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks. (Ross Roddy/Special to The Herald).
BLAKELY — Hello, Tyrone Culbreth, welcome to the big time.
Anyone who was worried about how Culbreth, a junior, would adjust from going from the GISA league to GHSA play should have been in Blakely on Tuesday when Culbreth lifted Herald No. 1 Albany High on his shoulders and helped the Indians win one of their biggest games of the year — a 65-57 win against Herald No. 2 Early County.
Culbreth not only lifted the Indians, he towered over the game.
“It was phenomenal,’’ Albany High coach Archie Chatmon said. “His effect on the game was phenomenal on both ends of the floor.’’
You need a drum roll for Culbreth’s numbers ... He scored 18 points and blocked four shots, but where he hurt Early the most was on the boards, where he lived all night. Culbreth pulled down a career-high 22 rebounds, and set the tone for the huge Region 1-AA showdown.
“He played a good game, a real good game,’’ Early County coach Randy Isom said. “I’ve seen him play before, but I’ve never seen him play like that.’’
The Indians dominated the boards all night and combined to block nine shots.
“They really hurt us on the boards,’’ Isom said. “Hats off to Archie and his team. They exposed our weakest point. I’ve got to get some guys to step up and be more physical down there. That was the nail in the coffin, the way they beat us on the boards.’’
Early County’s center Jacori Taylor is still out with a knee injury, but Albany High came into Early County — which hadn’t lost at home all year — with a game plan to slow down the Bobcats, who had run their way to a 14-1 record and were unbeaten in region play.
“Our goal was to make them play our game at our pace,’’ Chatmon said.
It was 11-11 at the end of the first quarter, and Chatmon had made his point.
“I felt real good after the first quarter,’’ he said. “We wanted to make them play our pace, and we did that, and we were able to maintain that pace. That’s a hard thing to do against that team.’’
Chatmon put Culbreth, his center, out in front on defense, because he wanted to put pressure on Early guard Ladonis Yarbrough.
“He got those big arms out there on him,’’ Chatmon said. “I thought that was the key, to stop (Yarbrough) and not let him beat us. It was a great team effort.’’
Albany outrebounded Early, 45-28, for the night, and the team combined to block nine shots, including three by Herald Super 6er Tim Pierce, who also scored 16 points.
“We didn’t shoot the ball very well (Tuesday night),’’ Isom said. “We missed a lot of shots we normally make. That and the rebounding is what really hurt us. We got it close and were coming back with about six minutes left, and then we backed off until (the final two minutes). You just can’t back off.’’
Albany built the lead to 17 points and held on as Early made a last rush. Dequantay George hit a 3 for Early to close the gap to 59-51 with 1:00 left, and Randy Eaford made two free throws with 17 seconds left to close to 61-57, but that’s as close as Early could get. Yarbrough, who hit four 3s, finished with 17 points and Darontay McCoy, who had been averaging close to 30 a game, finished with just 13 for Early.
The Indians got double figures from Culbreth, Pierce and Larry Sanford, who led the team in scoring with 24 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter when he hit 11 of 15 free throws.
“Larry was huge down the stretch,’’ Chatmon said. “That’s what you want your point guard to do. And he hit the free throws. Free throws win games.’’
So does rebounding, and defense and setting the tone and pace — and all the things Albany did to win this one. The Indians are 4-1 in Region 1-AA and 11-2 for the season and clearly the top team in Southwest Georgia.
“Phenomenal,’’ Chatmon repeated.
ALBANY GIRLS 65, EARLY COUNTY 50: There was 7:01 left in the game and Super 6er Chasity Mullins found herself in traffic under the basket. So she just flipped the ball over her head.
It hit the bottom of the net.
That’s what kind of night it was for Albany High, which never trailed in the rout. Mullins scored 17 of her 19 points in the second half and finished with nine rebounds and six steals, which all led to fast breaks. The Squaws ran like the wind Tuesday and seemed to take advantage of every Early County mistake.
“That’s her signature move,” Albany coach Telly Turner said of Mullins’ slick reverse. “That’s the shot, the reverse layup.’’
Albany High pushed the ball all night and ran one break after another.
“After I saw they weren’t very deep I saw their first five was getting winded, and I reminded (my team) of all the running they had done, and told them to put it to good use,” Turner said.
Briana Williams went to the hoop all night and finished with 16 points, and Brianna Washington grabbed seven rebounds and scored 12 points. Kairsha Jackson, who seems to get better with every game, added 11 points and ran the floor for the Squaws, who are 4-1 in Region 1-AA after the big showdown win against Early, which is now 3-2 in the region.
Early County was led by Tynicia McCoy (17 points) and Justice Lee (11) but the Lady Bobcats just couldn’t catch the Squaws, who forced 22 turnovers.