Early County coach Randy Isom
BLAKELY — Maybe it was outside forces that caused a lack of fire in the second half for Early County.
Northeast, Macon’s Kevin Grooms believes it was just a hungry group of seniors that didn’t want to go out in the first round of the GHSA Class AA boys’ state playoffs.
The Raiders scored 20 points in the third quarter and took a 69-57 win against Early County three-plus hours back up I-75 on Wednesday.
“Our kids just came out and they fought,” said Grooms, whose 17-12 Raiders were the No. 3 seed from Region 4-AA and helped complete a sweep of Region 1-AA teams in the first round.
Northeast, Macon advances to the Sweet 16 on Saturday and will be on the road again at Class AA No. 2 Vidalia (27-1), which knocked out Harlem, 84-63, in the opening round.
After an up-and-down season for his Raiders, Grooms welcomes the challenge.
“Bring it on,” he said.
Early County trailed just 31-30 at the half, but a listless third quarter on defense and no backside rebounding killed the Bobcats in just eight minutes after the break. Raiders seniors Drake White and Jerry Butler led a furious run in less than a minute, boosting the NE Macon lead from 37-35 to 43-35 with 3:53 left in the third.
“Our energy level wasn’t what it needed to be (after half),” Early County head coach Randy Isom said. “I can’t even begin to tell you how many (second-chance putbacks NE Macon had). We just stood around and we didn’t play to our potential.”
Isom said it’s been a struggle from the start for the Bobcats, who end the season 15-12 as Region 1-AA’s No. 2 seed.
“I’m proud of my kids because this environment they’re surrounded by doesn’t build them up,” Isom said of the intangible forces his players have faced. “From the first scrimmage we’ve had too much negativity around and these kids fought back. (There were) a lot of people coming to them with all this negativity. After a while it takes a toll. It just takes the life out of you.”
Northeast, Macon didn’t help matters with 20 third-quarter points to go ahead 51-41 entering the final period. Bobcats junior Tracy Blocker, who led Early with 11 points, hit his second of three 3-pointers in the game with 5:26 left to pull within 59-48 — but it was too little, too late.
White led all scorers with 18 points, while Butler scored all eight of his points in the second half to go with six boards.
“They’re seniors,” Grooms said. “They don’t want to go home. I told them if we’re going to lose it, we’re going to lose it with y’all.”
Santez Kender scored 15 for the Raiders, while Wycolvian Joyner added 13 in the win.
Early County got 10 points from departing senior Javonte Moore and eight apiece from fellow seniors Jacory Taylor and Dequan Brown. It was also the final game for Bobcats’ seniors Deon Curry, Chris Lee and Jarody Levatte.