OPENING NIGHT: Monroe, Albany, Westover, Dougherty tip-off seasons at Civic Center

Monroe star Jabari McGhee shows off a bit near the rim as he jams home a dunk in the first half Saturday night during the Tornadoes’ season opener. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Monroe star Jabari McGhee shows off a bit near the rim as he jams home a dunk in the first half Saturday night during the Tornadoes’ season opener. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Monroe, Westover girls hoops teams open year with wins

ALBANY -- Monroe’s girls basketball team served noticed Saturday: They might just be the best team in town.

They started the season with a convincing 73-55 win against always powerful Dougherty to open a four-game showcase of games in the 2012 Albany Tip-Off Classic at the Albany Civic Center.

Cedriana Waters dropped in 18 to lead Monroe (1-0 and 1-0 in Region 1-AAAA) and Key-Key Price added 13 for the Lady Tornadoes, who dominated the game with an unrelenting pressure defense. They made 15 steals and took control of the game in the second half. Monroe led just 30-25 at halftime but sprinted out to a 16-2 run to start the second half and never looked back.

Dougherty was led by Ra’Keta Shelton (16 points), Quinnesha Gatling (14 points) and Amber Ward (10 points).

“It was a win, but we still have a long way to go,” said Monroe coach Cheryl Cheeks, who was especially pleased with Waters’ big night. “She played last year, but she was more of a defensive player. She has really been working on her shot. She did a good job. She did more than we expected of her.”

WESTOVER 52, ALBANY HIGH 26: Mykesa Smith may be the scorer Westover needs to replace Herald Player of the Year DyTiesha Dunson, who graduated after leading the Lady Patriots for the last three years.

Smith poured in 12 points in the third quarter to take Westover from a 16-16 halftime tie to a 38-24 lead and the Lady Patriots went on to beat Albany High by 26 points in the Albany Tip-Off Classic at the Civic Center on Saturday.

Smith hit three treys and finished with 21 points, including 16 in the second half, and Achanti Layfield added 11 for Westover (1-0, 1-0 in Region 1-AAAA). Albany High was led by Briana Williams (nine points).

“I think (Smith) did a good job shooting the ball,” Westover coach Lewis Smith said. “You are not going to replace DyTiesha, but (Smith) is one of those girls we had in our rotation last year. It’s their time now. They are going to have to have their own swagger. The girls we had before have passed the baton to them, and they have to run with it.”

ALBANY — Every team wants to get off to a fast start.

It’s doubtful anyone in Georgia will start as fast as Monroe.

Not even the Tornadoes’ fans could believe their opening quarter against Dougherty on Saturday night in the Civic Center, where Monroe ripped off a 17-0 lead after the first eight minutes and led, 28-0, before the Trojans scored their first point of the night — a free throw that just barely rolled in by Tylinder Chester with 2:30 left in the half to avoid the shutout.

The crowd at the Civic Center gave a loud roar of mock approval when the ball fell to get Dougherty on the board.

By the time it was over, Monroe had started its season with a 53-27 win and a statement for the rest of the city and state to take notice. It’s was hard to tell that Monroe had lost four starters and its first two players off the bench to graduation in the season opener at the Albany Tip-Off Classic.

An entire new batch of faces gave Monroe its big lead.

“After we lost by 20 points (in a scrimmage) last week to Tift County, that says a lot about our character,’’ Monroe coach Marquis Davis said.

Davis said in all his days as a player and a coach, he had never seen a start like the one Saturday. But he believed it, because he believes in his kids.

“Our guys work hard in practice,” Davis said. “We told them that we are gong to have to play as a team and it was going to take a total team effort.’’

That’s exactly what they gave their coach in the opener.

Sure, Herald Super 6er Jabari McGhee is back, but he didn’t score a point in the first quarter and had only five points at halftime when Monroe led, 30-3.

Daryl Anderson launched three 3-pointers in a row during that madcap first eight minutes, and Tim White grabbed three rebounds and went inside for four points to help ignite that Tornadoes, who simply never let up on the defensive end of the court, keeping the heat on Dougherty.

“Daryl hit those threes and got us going, and we played a tremendous first half,’’ Davis said. “I thought our defense played real well in the first half.”

The two city rivals played three times last year and all three were competitive with the last two going down to the wire. But not Saturday. It’s early and every team in town is starting over, but Monroe hustled on defense like it was a playoff game. It wasn’t just the opening game of the season, it was the first region game, and that means even more. Monroe, which won the region regular season a year ago, is 1-0 in the Region 1-AAAA race, and is literally off and running.

“I’m not surprised,” McGhee said. “I saw this the whole summer. Those boys can play. They played like this the whole summer. They can knock down shots. That’s what they do. I just wanted to get the ball to the guy with the hot hand because (the players on this team) can knock down shots.”

It seem like everyone was involved in the fast start, and that might not change.

“This should give us a boost to start the season,” McGhee said. “We should have scored 80 points but didn’t play as well in the second half. But this is a great start. We should be pretty good.”

The Tornadoes led, 49-13, after three quarters, invoking a mercy-rule six-minute fourth quarter, which was played by mostly backups.

Anderson finished the night with 15 points after going 3-for-4 from the arc. McGhee, a 6-foot-7 forward who was a Herald Super 6er as a junior and Division 1 recruit, had his moments, including a steal and coast-to-coast sprint that ended with a thunder dunk that gave Monroe a 25-0 lead with 4:30 left in the first half, as well as a monster block in the first quarter when Monroe was asserting its dominance.

He finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, two assists and two blocks. Not a bad start — but nothing compared to the one the entire group of Nadas had Saturday.

Shunwhaski Wheeler hit four 3-pointers, including three in the fourth quarter, to lead Dougherty. Chester and Montrell Sisroe scored six each for the Trojans.

“We’ve got to work,’’ Dougherty coach Donald Poole said. “Yeah, I’ve seen games like this before. We have to be ready to play when we show up. When you don’t show up to play, that’s what happens.

“(Monroe was) ready to play. They did a good job, but we have to be ready to play.”


ALBANY — The faces are new, but it still says “Westover” on the front of the jersey, and that means a lot to one of the best basketball programs in Georgia.

It showed on opening night Saturday in the Albany Tip-Off Classic at the Civic Center, where the Patriots had an easy time beating Albany High, which lost all five starters from its Elite 8 team from a year ago.

The Patriots started fast and played tough inside all night in their 61-32 win against the Indians, who will need some time to rebuild after losing so many key players, including The Herald’s Willie Boston Player of the Year Tim Pierce.

Albany High coach Archie Chatmon wasn’t worried about the loss.

“That’s not a loss,'' he said. “We came in here to find out who we are. Now we know who we are and we can build from here. But you can't start building until you have a starting point. Now we are at ground zero, and we can start building. We’re fine.”

Westover is also rebuilding a bit, and two starters from last year’s team are still in the football playoffs. No one knew what to expect in the opener, but the kids from Northwest Albany showed everyone at the Civic Center why Smith said he felt good about this year’s team earlier in the week.

Smith said he “likes the mix,’’ and that was evident Saturday when Westover took a 10-8 first quarter lead and turned it into a 33-16 halftime cushion. The Patriots just kept going inside and built a 20-point lead (47-27) at the end of three quarters.

"I thought we did OK,'' smith said. "We have a long way to go, but I think we can get there. I thought we did a good job on the block (with our inside game). I want to go inside more this year. Most of the time when you go inside, good things happen.''

The Patriots spread the ball and the wealth. C.J. Davis and Khalil Carson led the way with 11 points each, and Andre Kennedy (eight points) and Kyle Baker (seven points) followed. Nine different players scored for Westover. Albany High was led by Tyler Cheese, a freshman who was on the JV team a year ago.

Davis and Carson, both juniors, are Smith's big men inside --- and they knew what to do.

"I just wanted to have a good game and play Westover basketball, that's playing good defense, hustling and playing with a good attitude,'' Carson said.''I'm extremely pleased with the effort and the win.''

Davis said he had been waiting for this game for a while.

"I've been playing varsity since my ninth-grade year, and now I getting a chance to start, I'm going to keep it going,'' he said. "I knew one day I would get a chance to start because of all the hard work I put in.''

He believes in this team.

"We've got good chemistry,'' Davis said. "I know we're going to go far this year.''

They got off to a great start on Saturday. It wasn’t just the season opener, it was the first game of region play between the two city rivals, because Albany High jumped from Class AA to AAAA this year and joins the other three city schools in Region 1-AAAA.

"Any time you start 1-0 in the region, it's a good start,'' Smith said.