BIRMINGHAM – Dominant. There really isn’t a better word for it. Two years after Tanner defeated LaFayette in the Class 2A state title game, the Bulldogs got their revenge on the Rattlers with a dominant performance in the state semifinals here in Birmingham Monday afternoon.
LaFayette streaked out to a 10-0 lead and would never trail as they advanced to the state finals with an 87-56 win.
On the biggest stage, the Dogs played one of their best games of the year. They controlled the boards, got nearly every loose ball, shot over 50 percent from the field and drained 9-of-16 three-point attempts. Tanner never stood a chance.
“Our kids really fought hard possession after possession and that was the difference in the game,” LaFayette coach Obadiah Threadgill said. “We were able to make them take difficult shots, and not let them do what they wanted to do. Our kids did a great job playing to our game-plan and being efficient on offense and defense, so kudos to these guys because they earned this, they really deserve it.”
What stood out most in this win was the total team effort. Four Bulldogs scored in double digits, and several players came off the bench to contribute.
“Our guys understand that at any moment their number can be called,” Threadgill said. “They can go one game and play once for two minutes and go another game and play 12-15 minutes. That something that our team has really been working on all year, something they’re dedicated to, something they’ve bought into. Everybody has his own role. Our team is really deep and really talented, guys are always ready and waiting for their number to be called.”
The Bulldogs’ depth paid off right from the opening tip. With the Rattlers keying on forward Trevond Barnes, Quentin Ray stepped up. He pulled down seven first half rebounds, including five on the offensive end and would score five of LaFayette’s first 10 points. Jatarvious Whitlow picked up where he left off in the Regional Finals, and scored eight points in the first quarter as LHS built a 20-11 lead.
LaFayette continued to pull away in the second quarter. Jamal Sims came off the bench to score six in the quarter and Maurice Foster and Zen Heard both checked in and put points on the board for the Dogs. At the half, the Bulldogs had built a 37-23 lead.
The second half started out with an offensive explosion by both teams. Nearly three minutes into the third quarter, the Dogs and Rattlers had combined to score 23 points.
With 5:00 to play in the third, Kaminski Bledsoe drained his third three pointer of the game to give LaFayette a 49-32 lead, and it would start a run that would crush any hope of a Tanner comeback.
LaFayette outscored Tanner 16-7 over the final four minutes of the third and included in those scores were two big dunks by Barnes that energized the already red-hot Bulldogs. With less than a minute to play in the quarter, LaFayette led by 23, their biggest margin of the game to that point.
The fourth quarter was merely a formality, but the Bulldogs still had fun. Barnes drained a three pointer and had a big put-back dunk. Whitlow bobbed and weaved around Tanner defenders to keep the clock running and Ray continued his dominance under the basket. Even senior Kentrel Holloway got in on the action, coming off the bench to drill two three pointers with under a minute to play.
It was a win that went according to plan in nearly every way.
Whitlow led LaFayette with 20 points and four assists. Ray earned a double-double in the win, scoring 17 and grabbing 12 rebounds. Barnes scored 13 and had seven blocks and six rebounds. Bledsoe was 4-of-6 from behind the three-point line and finished with 14 points. Sims had with six points, Foster scored four and Quentavioius Whitlow had three.
Now LaFayette will get the chance to earn their fourth state title in school history this Friday. But they shouldn’t expect a win to come as easily as it did Monday.
The No. 9 Bulldogs (24-5) will face defending 2A champions No. 7 Elba (21-6) in the title game. Elba defeated No. 10 Vincent Monday evening 48-45 to advance to the championship.
The last time Threadgill and the Bulldogs played for a title, it didn’t go their way, but this isn’t 2013. That team made a surprise run to the finals; this team expected to be here.
“This team is a little bit different,” says Threadgill. “Our skill level is so much higher from that (2013) team. So many kids can shoot the ball, so many kids can really run, so many kids can handle the ball. We have guys that are thinkers and guys that are athletes, so you don’t really have any weak areas. Our kids aren’t any better than anybody, we can be beat, but it’s going to be really difficult to beat us when we bring our A-game.”
LaFayette will no doubt need that A-game to get past what will likely be their toughest opponent of the season.
LaFayette and Elba were originally scheduled to tip off at 11 am CST, but the game has been moved back to 2 pm due to weather. The game will take place at Legacy Arena in the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex.
*For full story see this week’s print edition of The Sun.