Sluggish No. 1 Monroe rallies to beat Albany late Friday

ALBANY --- Monroe not only bounced back from its only loss to a team from Southwest Georgia all year, but the Tornadoes did it with backups.

With the top seed in next week’s Region 1-AAAA tournament already locked up, Monroe coach Marquis Davis played his backups for much of the night in a 65-51 win against city and region rival Albany High at Darton.

Davis said it wasn’t his intention to rest his starters.

“That wasn’t the plan at all,’’ he said after the game. “It was senior night but our starters did not give us a good game. Our bench won the game. Kevin McCauley was the MVP of this game. He put defensive pressure on their guards.’’

McCauley and an assortment of backup players led Monroe. By the end of the night, a dozen players from Monroe -- that’s right, 12 different players -- had scored for The Herald No. 1 Tornadoes, who were trailing in the first quarter when Davis went to his bench.

“The starters came out without any energy,” said Davis of his decision to go to his bench early.

Monroe was trailing 13-9 when the backups ripped off an 8-2 run to finish the first quarter with a 17-15 lead. They kept scoring, and Johnathon Wallace gave Monroe a big lift in the second quarter when Albany was hit with a technical foul right after Wallace was fouled. Wallace made all four free throws to give Monroe a 22-15 lead, and the Nadas took a 33-25 lead into the halftime break.

Monroe’s starters opened the second half, but Davis had at least one backup player on the court -- and often two or three -- the rest of the game.

Cortez Banks grabbed six rebounds and scored nine points, and Wallace finished with 10 points for the Tornadoes, who were led by starter Damien Anderson, who hit 3 treys in the third quarter and four 3s for the night to finish with 20 points. Herald Super 6er Jabari McGhee finished the game with just five points.

Tyler Cheese led Albany with 18 points, while Jamrcis Nunnally finished with nine and Deandre Hamilton also added nine.

It was that kind of night for Monroe -- a night that saw Jordan Tyson, Walter Green, Davoris Hodges, David Hamilton, McCauley, Banks and Wallace all come off the bench to contribute to the win. McCauley finished with four points, but his hustle, defense and ability to run the court as a point guard was a spark for Monroe, which needed overtime to beat Albany High earlier this year when the starters played the entire game.

“It’s always good to be able to share the basketball,’’ Davis said. “It was senior night, and you always want to give your seniors the opportunity to play.’’

Monroe played the game without Hakeem Porter, who has been starting. Porter sat out the game because of tardiness during the week.

It didn’t matter. Monroe was able to pull away and nail down the win after losing a tough game a week ago.

The Tornadoes, who have been ranked No. 1 for the entire season in the Fab 5 Poll, were coming off a 48-47 loss in overtime last Friday to Terrell County. Monroe (20-3) has lost to only Class AAAAAA Luella and Florida powerhouse Oakland Park Northeast this season, and those losses were at a Christmas tournament in Atlanta.

The Tornadoes finish the regular season tonight at Worth County and won’t play again until next Thursday when they meet an opponent to be determined in the semifinals of the Region 1-AAAA tournament, which will be held at Monroe. The Tornadoes earned the home court in the region tournament by winning the regular season. They’re 11-2 in the region with one game left.

“These games are not going to change anything (in the region because Monroe has clinched),” Davis said. “But you want to go in (to the region tournament) with momentum.”

Albany High (7-7 in Region 1-AAAA) will enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed and will need to win against an opponent yet to be determined to reach the semifinals, where the Indians will likely face Monroe again.