Herald Super 6er Jabari McGhee scored 18 points to lead the Monroe boys basketball team to a win against Cairo on Tuesday.
ALBANY --- Jabari McGhee doesn’t really care if other people start jumping on the Monroe bandwagon this year, but he’s been on it since Day 1.
After all, the senior leader is driving it.
“We know what we want to do, and if people want to tag along for the ride, that’s fine, too,” McGhee said.
The Tornadoes looked like a team to beat in Region 1-AAAA after Tuesday’s 52-27 rout against Cairo to improve to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in region play.
McGhee led the way with 18 points and nine rebounds and was a key part of Monroe’s stifling defense that forced 28 turnovers and held Cairo to 25 percent shooting from the floor.
“Our defense is what is getting us off to these great starts in the first quarter,” Monroe coach Marquis Davis said. “Our team goal at the end of the night is to hold the other team to 40 points. If we do that, we know we can win the ball game.”
The Tornadoes (3-0, 2-0 Region 1-AAAA) opened the season Nov. 17 with a similar dominating defensive performance against Dougherty when they held the Trojans to 27 points. Davis said it’s all about “keeping one foot in the paint” and not allowing opponents to take any uncontested shots inside the 3-point line.
Every time Cairo entered the paint Tuesday, the Tornadoes swarmed to the ball handler and jumped on the loose ball.
“Defense gets us going,” McGhee said. “The offense will come, so if we just start off with defensive intensity the offense will come. We have scorers.”
And Monroe’s scorers hit the court running Tuesday, outscoring the Syrupmakers, 20-6, in the first quarter. The Tornadoes shot over 50 percent from the field in the opening period and held Cairo without a field goal for the first seven minutes.
Cairo (0-1, 0-1) scored just eight points in the second quarter and two points in the third quarter before closing the game with 11 points in the final period.
Syrupmakers coach Ike Chance said his team just wasn’t playing at the same speed as Monroe in their first game of the season.
“Basketball is a game of rhythm, and we just couldn’t get into any rhythm (Tuesday),” Chance said. “That was the difference in the ball game.”
McGhee was a pretty big difference, too.
He was the only Tornado to score in every period and was a rebound away from a double-double.
“He is going to have to lead this team,” Davis said about McGhee. “He started as a freshman, and now it’s his time. Guys have led him for the past three years, and now this is his team.”
McGhee’s first and last field goals of the game were on thundering alley-oop dunks from teammate Keith Bowens --- plays that would have made any Top 10 highlight reel.
McGhee said the dunks go hand-in-hand with how well he and his teammates play together.
“That’s the whole team,” McGhee said. “We just have that kind of chemistry. We know how each other play. And we are hungry. I know I am, and I know they are. We are playing hungry right now and playing like we want something.”
Keith Bowens and Deonte Mangham each added six points for the Tornadoes, while Johnterius Wallace came off the bench to add five points and four rebounds. Cairo was led by Trey Sparrow, who scored nine points.
The Tornadoes, who play again Friday at Americus-Sumter and Saturday at home against Valdosta, might be off to their seventh consecutive 3-0 start, but Davis said it isn’t time to start celebrating yet.
“We are constantly on them,” Davis said. “It’s too early in the year to stop working. We have a weekly goal, and our goal this week is to be 5-0 at the end of Saturday’s game.”