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GHSA CLASS AAA STATE TOURNAMENT, ELITE 8 PREVIEW: Cougars out for revenge, history

Crisp County’s Jontavious Carter, left, may be headed to Miami on a football scholarship next season, but he’d love to deliver the Cougars their first state title in school history before he departs. The quest for that continues today in the GHSA Class AAA State Tournament’s Elite 8 round against Eagles Landing — the same team which eliminated Crisp County from last year’s tourney. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Crisp County’s Jontavious Carter, left, may be headed to Miami on a football scholarship next season, but he’d love to deliver the Cougars their first state title in school history before he departs. The quest for that continues today in the GHSA Class AAA State Tournament’s Elite 8 round against Eagles Landing — the same team which eliminated Crisp County from last year’s tourney. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

MILLEDGEVILLE — Crisp County senior Jontavious Carter talked about his heart feeling broken. Cougars coach Terry Smith remembers it well, too. It was March 2, 2011, when the Cougars lost to Eagles Landing Christian Academy in the second round of the Class AAA State Tournament, and Crisp County has had a year and a day to think about avenging that loss, which they will get a chance to do today in the Elite 8 in Milledgeville.

Want To Go or Follow Online?

WHO: Crisp County boys (20-9) vs. Eagles Landing (27-3).

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. today.

WHERE: Milledgeville.

LIVE UPDATES: Go to twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports

“They aren’t speaking too loudly about revenge,” Smith said Friday. “But once we beat Westside, Augusta (in Wednesday’s second round game), the kids knew we had a shot at Eagles Landing.”

It’s been more than 50 years since Crisp County has advanced to the Final Four, but it’s already been a historic season for the boys from Cordele, who won the school’s first Region 1-AAA title.

“That was a great feeling,” Smith said. “It was great from a personal standpoint, but it was also great for the community. To come in and win the first region title in school history, that was for all the people who went before us. All the former players and coaches had just as much a part in that as the players this year.”

The Cougars (20-9) set aside that championship trophy and set their sights on an even bigger prize. They took care of Veterans and Westside, Augusta in the opening rounds of the state tournament and now have a trip to the Final Four on the line when they face off against Eagles Landing at 8:30 p.m. today at Georgia College and State University.

The stakes are high for the Cougars, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at them. Too much emotion got the Cougars in trouble last season when they lost to Monroe in the region championship, but Smith said his team isn’t making the same mistakes this time around.

“They understand it’s one game at a time,” Smith said. “We just have to keep that even keel. They are anxious to go play, but they know what’s at stake.”

Eagles Landing (27-3) is ranked No. 6 in the state poll and was No. 2 before losing the Region 4-AAA championship game to No. 4 Drew. Smith called Eagles Landing one of the top two teams in the state, along with No. 1 Columbia.

“They play hard,” Smith said. “They can do about anything. They can shoot inside, shoot outside. (The Eagles Landing coaching staff) is doing a great job with those kids.”

The Golden Eagles are led by 6-foot-10 center Desmond Ringer and point guard Isaiah Dennis, who Smith calls “speed.”

“He is so fast,” Smith said. “They get an outlet pass to him, and then he is gone.”

The Cougars have their own point guard who has carried them this season in sophomore Javoris Cooks, who took over the position midway through the season and helped turn around the team’s momentum. Crisp has won eight of its last nine games (its only loss during that span was a 66-56 setback to Class AAAAA Valdosta), and Smith said Cooks has been a big reason why the Cougars have been so successful.

“He is such a smart basketball player,” Smith said. “He understands the game of basketball. That has helped us so much. He is controlling our offense.”

Cooks has been huge but so has Crisp’s senior class. There are eight seniors on the roster, but none are bigger than Carter and shooting guard D.J. Jackson. Carter, who is headed to the University of Miami on a football scholarship, scored a team-high 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Wednesday’s win against Westside, Augusta, and the 6-3 forward immediately started thinking about Eagles Landing after the game.

“I told myself if I ever play them again, I was going to beat them,” Carter told The Herald after the game.

A win in tonight’s game advances the Cougars into Friday’s Final Four against either Washington, Atlanta or Allatoona in the Macon Centreplex at 5:30 p.m.