ALBANY -- One step closer…
That’s what Monroe’s 57-38 win against Dougherty Friday night at Darton means to the Tornadoes, who are now 11-0 in the Region 1-AAAA race, and one win away from clinching not only the top seed but the home court in next month’s region tournament.
That tournament will decide who gets the berths in the state playoffs (the top four teams advance to the postseason), and the region champ will have a chance to be at home in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
That’s the stuff teams play for all year long.
No one has played better than the Tornadoes, who have been The Herald’s top-ranked team in the Fab 5 poll from the beginning of the season.
Playing at home in the Monroe’s pressure-cooker gym is priceless.
“It would be important to play the region tournament in your own gym,’’ said Monroe coach Marquis Davis, whose team beat city and region rival Dougherty for the third time, including two region games. “We haven’t had the region tournament at our place in a while. We haven’t lost a game in our gym all year.’’
Monroe (17-2) hasn’t lost a game outside Atlanta. The Tornadoes lost two games in a Christmas tournament in Atlanta, getting edged by Class AAAAA Luella and by Florida power Oakland Park Northeast. The Nadas have won seven in a row since, and have been perfect in the region. That’s the way Davis looked at Friday’s game at Darton that started late (it was the fourth game of the day at Darton) and didn’t end until almost 11:30 p.m.
“It’s a region win,’’ Davis said. “It’s a big game because it’s a region game.’’
Dougherty, which lost to Monroe 53-27 on opening night, and fell to the Tornadoes, 52-38 in the U Save It Basketball Tournament over the holidays, played much tougher on Friday.
Dougherty hung around and the Trojans even led early, 10-9 before Monroe went on a 5-0 run to end the quarter with a 14-10 lead. Dougherty closed to within two points a few times before halftime, but Monroe pulled away easily in the second half,.
“They have improved since we beat them in the first game of the year, and they’ve gotten better since we played them over Christmas,’’ Davis said. “They play hard. Every team in Region 1-AAAA plays hard. Dougherty is a good 3-point shooting team. I bet they hit better than 50 percent of their 3s.”
That’s where the Trojans found most of their offense. Al Brown buried four treys and led Dougherty with 13 points, and Shun Wheeler hit a pair of 3s and finished with seven points.
Herald Super 6er Jabari McGhee led Monroe. It was a typical night for McGhee, who finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots, including a couple of highlight film blocks and one rim-shaking alley-oop dunk. McGhee made it look easy, and so did Monroe, which got 12 points from Darrien Anderson and nine from Tim White.
The Tornadoes must now turn around from their late night win and play Crisp County at home tonight in a game that could clinch the region top seed and home court. Crisp played Monroe tough earlier this season, losing 40-39 in Cordele on Dec. 7.
The Tornadoes, who have beaten Westover twice in the region and three times this year, hold a two-game lead over the Patriots, who are 9-2 in the region. One more region win would clinch it for the Tornadoes.
“We have three region games left,’’ Davis said. “We’ve got to get ready for Crisp.’’