On Saturday, Tift County was as good as advertised.
Tift won a battle of the top two boys basketball teams in Region 1-6A — and the two teams that have played in the last two Region 1-5A championship games — defeating Valdosta 86-57 in front of a standing-room only crowd at the TCHS gym. The win gives Tift a two-game lead in the region standings.
Tift excelled in nearly every area on Saturday, and walked away with a 29-point win.
The Tift boys are loaded with talent. They have a 6-foot-7 forward who has committed to Kansas (Brannen Greene). They have a junior point guard (Tadric Jackson) who could be a Division I signee next year. Several players who took the floor Saturday night looked like potential college prospects. Tift has six players who are 6-foot-4 or taller and four who are at least 6-foot-5.
On Saturday, they came ready to play. They shot the ball well from both the outside and the inside. They played tough defense, constantly putting a hand in the shooter's face. They used their size advantage to their advantage, playing a physical game, and with a trio of officials who chose to let the teams play and didn't call a lot of fouls, that was a huge advantage.
Valdosta matched Tift shot for shot in the first quarter, and led for a good portion of the period. After eight minutes, Tift held an 18-17 lead.
But midway through the second quarter, Tift took control of the game. TCHS was leading 30-29 with less than four minutes left in the first half when it suddenly caught fire. Jackson buried a three-pointer, then made two free throws on Tift's next possession. Ladarius Stewart made a layup, giving Tift a 37-29 lead, then Ali Vaughn made two free throws and Jackson drove the lane for a layup. Finally, Greene drained a three-pointer, completing a 14-0 run for Tift and making the score 44-29.
Tift led 42-31 at halftime.
Tift was leading 47-36 with 4:30 left in the third quarter when it went on another run. Donell Tuff got the ball and dunked it. Jackson made the first of two free throws, then D.J. Bryant grabbed the rebound after Jackson missed the second free throw and scored. Valdosta got two free throws by Rashad Lewis and a putback from Tra Barrett. Then Greene pushed a defender out of his way, got the ball near the top of the key and buried a three-pointer. Then Greene got the ball in transition and dunked. The teams traded jumpers, then Greene and Jackson scored on Tift's final two possessions of the third quarter. That 16-6 run extended Tift's lead to 22 points, 64-42, at the end of three quarters.
Tift added five more points to its lead in the fourth quarter, and extended its lead to 29 points at the end of the game.
The game was physical throughout, and tempers flared with 3:09 left in the game, after Valdosta's Jerahn Thomas was fouled by Jackson. A frustrated Thomas shoved Jackson back, and other players from both sides rushed in. The Valdosta and Tift coaches and the three officials quickly sprinted in and tried to separate everyone. Valdosta was assessed two technical fouls, and Greene made all four free throws afterwards.
Greene led all scorers with 27 points. Jackson had 21 points, and Bryant added 11 for Tift.
Lewis led Valdosta with 16 points. Thomas added 13.
The two teams will meet again next week in Valdosta.
On Saturday, Tift County was as good as advertised.
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