Quarterfinal matchups: Few longshots remain
Southwest DeKalb’s Michaela Benefield goes to the basket. (Photo – Mark Brock)
Cinderella is still very much alive in the Class AAAAA boys tournament, where two of the remaining eight teams entered the playoffs out of the rankings.
The biggest longshot is Lithonia, which finished fourth in the Region 6 tournament, but has won its first two playoff games – beating Region 7 champion Villa Rica and defeating Riverdale. The Bulldogs (13-16) easily have the worst record of the eight remaining teams –six have won 20-plus games – but coach Wallace Corker’s team is treading on familiar ground. Lithonia has rebuilt from last year’s 25-6 team and has been an annual playoff team.
The girls side has been relatively free of drama. Each of the eight remaining in the quarterfinals were ranked in the final regular season top-10 rankings. (Only No. 8 Villa Rica took an early exit.)
Here’s a look at the quarterfinal games. The girls play Tuesday and the boys play Thursday.
No. 9 Riverwood (23-5) at No. 4 Miller Grove (20-8): No. 9 Riverwood (23-5) has been living on the edge. The Raiders won their second-round game on a 3-point by Charnchai Chantha with six seconds left. Riverwood’s go-go guys are Elijah Jenkins (son of coach Buck Jenkins) and move-in Elijah Dudley. Miller Grove is led by senior Naquante Hardy (19.5 points, No. 2 in DeKalb County; 5.3 rebounds), Jermon Clark (5.7 rebounds) and Maurice Harvey. Miller Grove is the defending state champion and has won the title in seven of the last eight seasons. Riverwood has never reached the state semifinals.
Lithonia (13-16) at No. 2 Cedar Shoals (25-4): Cedar Shoals has been itching for a return trip to the Final Four since losing to Allatoona in the semifinals a year ago. The Jaguars have one of the classification’s best players in Philandrous Fleming, who has signed with Coastal Carolina. Lithonia reached the Final Four in Class AAAA last season before losing to eventual champion Liberty County. But the Bulldogs underwent a complete makeover and been tested in a difficult league. Lithonia’s top players are Christian Parker, Ziven Alexander and Sydarius Stinson.
No. 3 Warner Robins (26-3) at No. 1 Buford (26-2): In the last round Buford was tasked with trying to stop New Hampstead’s O’ronte Anderson; he scored 33 points and Buford needed a last-second shot to win. This time the Wolves will have their hands full with guard Nelson Phillips, who had 24-second half points in the win over Southwest DeKalb. Warner Robins will need to find an answer for Buford’s inside-outside team of Alex Jones and Marcus Watson. Neither team has lost a game in 2017; each team is riding a 15-game winning streak.
Carver-Atlanta (17-13) at No. 6 Fayette County (22-7): Carver, the surprise winner of the Region 6 tournament, has won its last six games – the third-longest winning streak in the state. The Panthers are trying to earn their first trip to the semifinals came in 2004. Fayette County has gotten consistent play from Noah Gurley and point guard Austin Nesmith. The Tigers reached the second round last year (beating Buford in the opener) before falling to Monroe-Albany.
No. 9 Eagle’s Landing (26-3) at No. 3 Southwest DeKalb (25-4): This game features the two hottest teams in the state. Eagle’s Landing has won 13 straight and Southwest DeKalb, the reigning state champion, has won 15 straight. Both teams are loaded with balance. Eagle’s Landing, which has never advanced past the quarterfinal round, is led by juniors Ashley Foster (14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds) and Kiera Howard (11.7 points, 4.5 assists, 6.4 steals). Southwest DeKalb is led by Texas A&M signee Jada Walton (13.5 points), Lanee Edwards (11.3 points) and Ogheneruona Uwusiaba (9.9 points, 7.7 rebounds).
No. 6 Flowery Branch (23-6) at No. 5 Carrollton (29-1): Both teams are trying to get over the quarterfinal hurdle; they each lost there a year ago, Carrollton to Veterans, Flowery Branch to Brunswick. Carrollton has a state-best 18-game winning streak. Flowery Branch, led by the outside shooting of Lexie Sengkhammee and the inside game of Taniyah Worth, is trying to make the semifinals for the first time.
No. 2 Buford (26-2) at No. 4 Warner Robins (27-1): No. 2 Buford lost the coin flip and has to hit the road. The Wolves have won six straight since a late-season loss to Wesley (a quarterfinalist in AA) and have won their first two playoff games by an average of 36.5 points. Buford return everyone from last year’s 25-6 team that reached the Class AAAA semifinals last year before losing to Americus-Sumter, and added Tory Ozment, who missed last season with an injury. No. 4 Warner Robins is a quick, active team led by Kezie Holmes (17 points), Shynia Jackson (12 points, 7.4 rebounds) and Le’terria Harris (10.6 points, 4.8 rebounds). Warner Robins is trying to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1997. Demons coach Tracy Fendley played for Warner Robins when it got the quarterfinals in 1994.
No. 1 Griffin (27-1) at No. 7 Maynard Jackson (24-2): This game is worthy of a state championship spotlight. No. 1 Griffin is led by the inside presence of Cincinnati signee Andeija Puckett, who averages 17.1 points and 10.4 rebounds. Jackson will try to rely on its quick, scrappy defense to prevent Griffin from finding Puckett. Jackson brings a balanced attack led by Jamila Mitchell (10.9 points. Jackson lost to Morgan County in the Class AAA final last year. Griffin’s last trip to the semifinals came in 1998.