Deerfield’s Christian Wallace fights for a rebound with a pair of Tiftarea players during Friday night’s GISA Region 3-AAA semifinal game, which the Knights lost, 43-40. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Despite two regular season wins against Tiftarea earlier this season, the Deerfield-Windsor Knights fell in the GISA Region 3-AAA semifinals on Friday, falling 43-40 to the Panthers in a surprising upset at Cavalier Arena.
The second-seeded Knights, who just a week prior had followed up an earlier 26 point win over third seed Tiftarea with a 10 point victory, simply couldn’t find their rhythm or the bottom of net, en route to one of their most shocking defeats of the season.
“We just played bad,” said Deerfield head coach Gordy Gruhl. “If it’s possible to play any worse than that, I don’t believe it. We just couldn’t get it done.”
The Knights came out cold from the start, missing easy layups and repeatedly turning the ball over. Some early scoring from senior Justin Eady, along with Deerfield’s trademark defense, kept the game close and the Knights were able to finish the period down only four points, 13-9.
The second quarter saw the Knights start to get a little of their offensive mojo back as a brief run gave them their first lead at 15-14. Tiftarea bounced right back, however, regaining the lead at 21-17, before a solid scoring run from the Knights, behind strong inside play from junior Justin Wallace, helped Deerfield to a 24-21 halftime lead.
The third quarter saw the Knights continue to show their strength inside as Wallace scored two easy baskets to extend the Deerfield lead, but again Tiftarea battled back and when a last second, half-court shot by senior Chapy Ivey was waived off, the Knights were clinging to a 32-30 lead.
The Knights began the fourth quarter showing some promise, extending their lead to four points thanks an Ivey lay-up. In a quarter that saw both teams trade baskets and fouls throughout the period, neither team was able to find much rhythm, the Panthers, were finally able to pull ahead late. Wallace’s strong play continued to keep Deerfield in the game and his late quarter put-back got the Knights within two points with just over a minute remaining.
Junior guard Dee Barber had a chance to put Deerfield out in front just moments later when he went to the line for two, but it was not to be as the usually reliable shooter missed both. The Panthers, on the other hand, were able to hit crucial free throws late to pull off the stunning upset.
Wallace proved to be the one bright spot for the Knights, leading all scorers with 21 points. He also made his presence felt elsewhere on the stat sheet adding five rebounds, five steals and five blocks, as he did all he could to keep his team in the game.
“I thought Christian played a great game, I really did,” said Gruhl. “He’s about the only one who played well. We struggled all around (Friday).”
Other scorers for the Knights included Eady with nine points, Ivey with four points, Dee Barber with four points and junior Jay Barber with two points.
Eady also added five rebounds and a block, while Dee Barber grabbed six boards and a steal. Ivey finished with four rebounds of his own to go along with two blocks.
The Knights will try to bounce back tonight in the consolation game and then await their match-up in the first round of the state playoffs next week.
Lady Knights in region title game
The Deerfield Lady Knights showed immediately why they were the No. 1 seed in the region tourney, pulling ahead early in the second quarter and never looking back as they cruised to a 46-28 victory over the Brookwood Lady Warriors to advance to the region tournament final tonight.
The Lady Knights immediately looked to capitalize on their height advantage over the smaller Lady Warriors, pushing the action in the paint early.
Brookwood held off the initial barrage, forcing an 8-8 tie to end the first quarter, but the Lady Knights took control soon after and never looked back.
“We played a good game,” DWS coach Jeff Eubanks said. “We didn’t shoot the ball all that well, but we played a good defensive game.”
Despite missing some easy shots, Deerfield never relented, using its defense to keep control as it slowly pushed its way to a 22-10 lead going into the half behind strong play from senior standout Jordan Lane.
The second half saw the Lady Knights come out with their foot still on the pedal as they continued to increase their lead as they started to heat up from long range, finishing the period up 32-17.
In the fourth quarter Deerfield continued to dominate defensively, adding quick scores from sophomore Nyla Perry to keep the offensive momentum going before a deep 3-pointer from fellow sophomore Kelsey King gave the Lady Knights a 20-point lead, their largest of the night.
Lane continued to be the game’s biggest scoring and defensive force accounting for 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
King, also made her presence felt with 10 points, while also adding five rebounds and seven steals. Perry added six points, while sophomore Callie Kimbrell and junior Samantha Jones both had four points.
“I’m really pleased with our team,” Eubanks said. “We’ve been playing really good the last few weeks. We’ve got a really tough regular season schedule, so I think it’s made us better as team.”
Deerfiled will meet rival Southland Academy tonight for the region championship before moving on to the state tournament next week.