It took all they had, but undefeated and top-ranked Americus-Sumter finally took a small lead in the fourth quarter and held on to beat the ninth-ranked Monroe Golden Tornadoes 55-51 in front of a near capacity crowd in the final game of the MLK Classic at Monroe High School. The game had a play-off like atmosphere as the Monroe crowd tried to encourage the hometown team, while boisterous visiting fans rooted for their boys. Adding to the interest of the game was Monroe Head Coach Michael Hoffpauir who was facing his old team for the first time. Last year Hoffpauir guided the Panthers to the state finals before taking the position of head coach at Monroe.
The teams went back and forth all night with neither team taking complete control until the Panthers finally pulled ahead by six late in the game. The first quarter ended with Monroe ahead 10-8 with speed and defense being the name of the game. Monroe’s Za’tarious Anderson blocked three first quarter shots and Marius Ellis blocked two shots on the same Panther possession as the Tornadoes came out flying to the ball.
The back and forth continued in the second quarter and it looked as though the Tornadoes would take a lead into the half when Dominik Henderson drove to the basket, scored and was fouled. His three-point play put Monroe ahead 21-20 with less than a minute on the clock, but Americus-Sumter’s Trae Brown drilled a three-pointer from the corner to give the Panthers a 23-21 halftime advantage.
The second half was not much different, but the Tornadoes did move the ball inside more to Ellis. Ellis scored only two first half points but scored 14 in the second half as the Tornadoes relied more on the inside game because the three-point shots were not falling for any of the Monroe guards. Monroe relies heavily on big shots from beyond the arch, but Kareem Nixon was the only one to hit one Monday night. Unfortunately for the Tornadoes, Nixon got in early foul trouble and had to sit for a while.
Late in the fourth the Panthers finally wrested control of the game and built a seven-point advantage. The Tornado defense worked furiously with a full-court press that stopped the Panthers, but also gave Americus-Sumter 12 chances at the free throw line. The Panthers sank nine of those 12 free throws to maintain control.
Trae Brown led the Panthers with 14 points and earned recognition on the top-performers team for the MLK Classic. Darion Mitchell added nine points, while Melton McCoy and Kanova Willoughby each added eight.
The Panthers are now 19-0 on the year and are unbeaten in Region 1-AAAA and have beaten Dougherty twice and Westover once this season. They will end their regular season on Feb. 1 with a home game against Westover.
Ellis led the Tornadoes with 16 points, Nixon followed with 14 and Henderson added 11.
Monroe is now 15-6 on the year and still unbeaten in Region 1-AAA. They will host Cook High Friday night in Albany.
The girls’ game was less challenging for the Lady Panthers. The Lady Panthers (17-1) were coming off their first loss of the year to now top-ranked Carver of Columbus and were on a mission to rebound with a statement. They did. Americus-Sumter jumped out to an early 14-4 lead and were never threatened by the Lady Tornadoes. Monroe fell 69-22.
A photo gallery will be on AlbanyHerald.com.