ALBANY — If the third time is supposed to be a charm, please don’t tell Westover. There’s was nothing charming for the Patriots about Saturday night’s third showdown between Herald No. 1 Monroe and No. 2 Westover, which lost for the third time this season to the Tornadoes.
This one was the closest game, a 66-62 win for the Nadas that kept them perfect in Region 1-AAAA and atop The Herald's Fab 5 poll. They’ve been there since the season opened.
“They say it’s hard to beat a team three times, but that’s what happened,” Westover coach Dallis Smith after the loss, which was only the fourth of the year for Westover. The only other team to beat the Patriots was Class AAAAAA Tift County, which has arguably the best team in Georgia — and maybe the Southeast.
It happened again for the same reason it happened the first two times: Jabari McGhee.
McGhee, a two-time Herald Super 6er and leading candidate for the Player of the Year, simply did it again. He poured in 30 points (28 in the first three quarters), grabbed 12 rebounds, blocked a couple of shots and slammed in pair of two-fisted dunks to lead Monroe.
McGhee has scored 84 points (28.0 average) and grabbed 35 rebounds in the three games.
“It seems like he lives to play Westover,’’ Smith said.
McGhee said he just likes to win, and downplayed the bitter rivalry between the two schools — the best basketball rivalry in Southwest Georgia.
“I just play,’’ McGhee said. “I just go out and play basketball. I don’t care who it is.’’
He was not only the difference in the game, but he ignited Monroe’s big third quarter that set the tone for the second half. The two rivals played through seven ties and swapped the lead five times in the first half in a game that looked like it would be a see-saw down to the final buzzer.
But Monroe, which led 17-14 at the end of the first quarter and 25-22 at halftime, opened the second half on fire, hitting its first five shots. The Tornadoes made 10 of 12 shots in the third quarter, and McGhee went 6-of-7 from the field and followed his only missed shot with a put-back. He also had two free throws, and both came at the end of and-one plays in which McGhee hit spinning drives.
He scored 14 points in the third and Monroe built the lead to 11 points at one point before taking a 56-48 lead into the fourth. The Tornadoes took back their 11-point lead when Keith Bowens hit a put-back to give Monroe a 61-50 lead with 1:55 left in the game. Westover made a final and hit a 3 at the buzzer to make the final 66-62, but the Patriots couldn’t overcome Monroe’s big third quarter.
“I thought we were right were we needed to be,’’ Smith said. “But we just missed too many shots. We missed wide open shots.”
Westover went 7-for-17 in the third from the field and just never could get closer than six points until the final minute of the game.
“We wanted to push the ball,’’ McGhee said. “We have had some bad third quarters, and to get us going we had to have a good one (Saturday night). We had to. If we push the ball, that’s our game. They (my teammates) got hot. We got hot.’’
It was just the push Monroe needed.
“I didn’t think we played well in the first quarter,” Monroe coach Marquis Davis said. “It‘s really hard to beat a team three times, and I thought they (Westover) came out with a lot of energy. But to withstand it was a good thing for us.’’
Then came the third quarter.
“In the third, Jabari hit about (six shots) in a row,’’ Davis said. “He really had a good night. He stepped up in the second half. That’s what we’re going to need. Hakeem Porter gave us a good game coming off the bench.”
Porter always does. Monroe has more depth this year than in the last few seasons, and Porter is one of the reasons the Nadas are 14-2 and 8-0 in Region 1-AAAA. Porter finished with nine points and five rebounds and a comment about McGhee.
“He’s amazing,’’ Porter said.
Westover was led by Herald Super 6er Kell Miller, who opened the game with a rim-shaking dunk that said Westover was ready for the upset. He finished the night with 19 points and fellow Herald Super 6er T.J. Cromer added 13 points for Westover. Junior C.J. Davis had a big night inside, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight boards, but it wasn’t enough to stop Monroe, which has only lost to Class AAAAAA Luella and Florida powerhouse Oakland Park Northeast. Both losses were by three points in a holiday tournament in Atlanta, and the Nadas have won four in a row since.
Monroe and Westover could meet again in the Region 1-AAAA tournament next month.
“It’s real hard to beat a team three times,’’ McGhee said. “They get better each time. But so do we.”