The Cedar Shoals Jaguars have shown the knack of fighting, scraping and clawing to the very end during its postseason run. They stayed true to that Thursday night in front of a capacity crowd at Turner-Neatherly Gymnasium in the 5A quarterfinals against M.L. King.
Cedar Shoals fought through a first half barrage of seven three-pointers by M.L. King, trailed by eight at halftime, by nine at one point in the third quarter, dealt with foul trouble and fought back to within 41-39 by the end of the third.When the fourth quarter opened Jerrick Mitchell hit a floater to even the score 41-all and the Jaguars were in business with a brand new ballgame.
“We put pressure on them, we were playing defense with our hands down, we got our hands up, then they started to isolate us so we changed the defense again to confuse them and that carried us from there”, Cedar Shoals head coach L’Dreco Thomas said about stopping M.L. King from beyond the arc.
M.L. King did not make a three-pointer in the second half.
Patrick Scott nailed his second triple of the contest giving Cedar Shoals its first lead since early in the first quarter 46-45 with just over six minutes remaining. From there the Jaguars and Lions exchanged leads of no bigger than three points the rest of the way.
Sophomore Phlandrous Fleming battled foul trouble most of the night picking up his fourth foul with just under seven minutes remaining in the third quarter. Fleming re-entered the game with 3:40 left and Cedar Shoals trailing 52-51. Moments later Fleming calmly sank a three-pointer putting Cedar Shoals up 54-52 with just over 2:30 remaining. It seemed to be the final spark the Jaguars needed to pull away.
“It was real tough”, Thomas said of Fleming’s foul trouble. “(Fleming) is a guy we need on the floor to be successful. I told him to go back in and take over and he hit that three.”
M.L. King, despite poor free throw shooting down the stretch, took a 58-57 lead on two John Clayton free throws with 17.3 remaining. The Lions finished 13-20 from the stripe.
After a Cedar Shoals timeout, Jerrick Mitchell went coast-to-coast for a layup and the foul. Mitchell missed the free throw but D’Andre Mahaffey got the offensive rebound and putback plus the foul as the building erupted in celebration.
Mahaffey, who posted a game-high 18 points, sank his free throw to give Cedar Shoals the 62-58 lead with 7.6 remaining which held as the final after M.L. King’s desperation attempt to draw a four-point play failed.
Mahaffey’s successful three-point play was his second straight game-clinching basket in as many state tournament games. His three-pointer with six seconds left in the second round against Northside-Warner Robins put Cedar Shoals in the quarterfinals.
“This means the world to me right now. The guys, they fought hard, I’m just so happy with (our effort), Mahaffey said. “Coach is always talking to me about being a leader, I’ve been here the longest and I just try to lead by example. If they see me put my head down they aren’t going to play with that fire that we need so I’m just try to keep pushing and keep their heads in it.”
Mahaffey has committed to play his college ball at VMI in Virginia.
M.L. King (24-6) completed a season where they did not play a single home game in their own gym. Multiple reports confirmed their home gym was set on fire prior to the basketball season beginning. The Lions played a heavy amount of road games with some games designated as “home games” at nearby Dekalb County neighboring high school, Arabia Mountain.
Jordan Martin lead M.L. King with 15 points, Dominique Smart put in 10 however it was Jaquan Jones being held to six points that stood out in the box score. Jones scored 35 in the Lions upset victory against previously undefeated and No.1 ranked McIntosh to put M.L. King in the quarterfinals.
Cedar Shoals (23-8), the region 8-5A champions, advances to the semifinals to face Brunswick at Fort Valley State University Saturday riding a six-game winning streak-all in the postseason, winning all three state tournament games so far at home.
Mitchell, Greg Smith and Stavian Stevenson each finished with nine points while Fleming added seven in limited minutes for the Jaguars.
“They never give up. No matter what they never quit, that’s how they’ve played all year no matter the deficit they are going to play hard, we’re going to the Final Four,” Thomas elated afterwards. “This right here tonight, the atmosphere was incredible. The whole community coming together for Cedar Shoals and were going to the Final Four and hopefully we won’t stop there, our goal is to win it all.”