Westover Super 6er T.J. Cromer, right, fires up a shot over the outstretched arms of Westside, Macon’s Ronnie Mays in the first half of Saturday’s Class AAAA state playoff game. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Here’s a little tip for Eagles Landing — don’t tell T.J. Cromer to stop scoring.
He won’t listen.
Cromer, Westover’s Super 6er and star guard, scored 20 of his game-high 27 points in the second half of Saturday’s 78-63 victory against Westside, Macon in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs — and 18 of those points came in the final 12 minutes of the game after Westside’s Calvin Harris had a little talk with the Patriot senior.
“He had told me that I wasn’t going to score the rest of the night,” Cromer said. “I told him I was going to get a bucket right then for him. I just had to show him that I could score when I wanted to on him.”
Seconds after Harris’ failed prediction, Cromer sank a 3 from the top of the key to spark a 19-5 Patriots run that lifted Westover (23-5) into the Elite 8, where they will play Tuesday at home against Eagles Landing, the top-ranked Class AAAA team in the state.
Cromer was 6-for-11 from the field and 7-for-7 from the free throw line after halftime and simply took over the game after Westside cut Westover’s lead to four with 3:54 left in the third quarter.
“He has that capability,” Westover coach Dallis Smith said. “It doesn’t take but a little bit to set him off. He is a good athlete and does a lot for us, a lot more than score. He does a good job of distributing the ball.”
It was the second year in a row Westside was knocked out of the state playoffs by Westover, so Seminoles coach Josh Grube knew all about Cromer.
Grube pulled a worn index card out of his pocket after the game that showed his keys to victory and pointed near the top.
“It’s the second one on the list,” Grube said. “Contain No. 3 and No. 10. (Cromer) played well against us last year, and we knew we would have to defend him well. We didn’t do a good enough job, and that’s why Westover is moving on.”
No. 3 — Herald Super 6er Kel Miller — was held to three points in the second half and finished with 14, but No. 10 (Cromer) did enough damage for the both of them.
“That’s the scouting report,” Smith said. “When you play Westover, you have the tandem of guards that you are going to have to deal with. Those two players make us go.”
Miller got things going early for the Patriots, scoring nine in the first quarter and guiding Westover to a 20-15 lead after eight minutes. Miller and Cromer combined for just three points in the second quarter, but the duo got the rest of the Patriots involved. Mike Green came off the bench in the second quarter and knocked down two big 3-pointers, including one to give the Patriots a 31-22 lead — its biggest advantage in the first half.
“They tried to stop us,” Miller said. “But when they focus on stopping me and Cromer, they leave the other guys wide open for the key shots.”
Green finished with 15 points, while C.J. Davis added 11 and Khalil Carson dropped in seven for Westover, which had its lead cut to four points midway through the third quarter when Westside’s Ronnie Mays scored four straight points.
The Seminoles, who finished the season 22-7 for their third-best record in school history, only scored five points in the next six minutes and watched Westover jump out to an 18-point lead in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Seminoles, who were led by Damion Ottman’s 19 points, didn’t get closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“We knew we had to play our best,” Grube said. “It’s tough to lose to Westover in back-to-back years, but we are going to learn and get better and continue to move in the right direction with this program.”
Next up for the Patriots is an Eagles Landing team that crushed Albany High in Wednesday’s first-round game, 39-13.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Smith said. “They stand 6-9, 6-7, 6-8 and are very athletic. We are going to have to get some film and see if there is anything possible we can come out and do against them.”