The Marshall County Tigers (24-6) kept their season alive Saturday night by defeating Martin Luther King Magnet School 64-58 at home in the first round of the Region 5-AA tournament.
MCHS had seen their season come to an end in the opening round of the Region tourney each of the last two years, which included a 68-43 loss at the hands of the Royals in 2007.
After taking a 33-26 lead into the break, Marshall County opened up a nine-point advantage late in the third period before staving off a MLK rally in the fourth quarter.
With Saturday's triumph, the Tigers won a Region tournament game for the first time in seven years and advanced to take on District 9-AA champ Christ Presbyterian Academy in the second round on Tuesday night.
"We can celebrate this win for a little while, but we've got to prepare for CPA on Tuesday. This was sweet revenge for how they beat us a couple of years ago," said MCHS senior guard Blaise Spencer.
Marshall County head coach Jason Tigert, meanwhile, saw the victory over Martin Luther King (13-9) as a culmination of his team's hard work over the past three years and credited Marshall County's home crowd for giving the Tiger players an emotional lift.
"This group has improved every year they've been here. The steps we took two years ago and last year has led to this," said Tigert. "This was a tremendous basketball team we beat tonight. The crowd really helped. That was why it was so important to play here in Lewisburg in the first round."
Although the Royals held a 12-6 edge on the offensive boards and committed just three turnovers against MCHS' sagging man-to-man defense, MLK settled for perimeter jumpers much of the evening and shot only 40 percent from the field (21-52), which included a 3-of-17 effort from three-point range.
"We wanted to keep them out of the 12-foot area around the basket and force individuals to shoot from the outside. It was a gamble, but it was one that we had to take," said Tigert.
The Tigers, conversely, consistently broke down the Royals' defense with dribble penetration and either scored on layups or had wide open looks from behind the arc. As a result, Marshall County shot a torrid 59 percent from the field (22-37), highlighted by 12-of-23 performance from three-point range.
Spencer drilled five treys and led three MCHS players in double figures with 15 points, while Brandon Burns tallied 14 points on four three-pointers.
Kedren Johnson also added 12 points, five rebounds, and three blocked shots and Hunter Osborne notched nine points and 12 rebounds. Broderick Tears (eight points) and Cameron McCullough (six points) rounded out the scoring for the Tigers with McCullough dishing out seven assists.
Forward Antone Christian almost single handedly kept MLK in the game and paced the Royals with 29 points and 12 rebounds, while Greg Shelton and Taylor Cummings tallied nine and seven points respectively.
MLK jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead, but Marshall County got their offense in gear and put together a 13-6 run with the help of two treys from Spencer and a Burns three to grab a 13-12 advantage late in the first quarter.
After the Royals outscored MCHS 10-5 over the next two and a half minutes to pull ahead 22-18 early in the second, the Tigers closed the period with a 15-4 spurt on the strength of eight points from Johnson and five points from Burns to claim a 33-26 lead at the half.
MLK trimmed the deficit to 36-32 midway through the third, before Marshall County responded with a 9-4 burst behind two treys from Burns and an Osborne three-pointer to open up a 45-36 advantage late in the quarter.
The Tigers still held a 51-42 advantage with :37 left in the third thanks to a three-point play from Tears and a Spencer trey, but the Royals went on a 13-5 run to slice the deficit to 56-55 midway through the fourth.
McCullough and Tears though halted MLK's momentum by hitting consecutive layups to give Marshall County a 60-55 lead with 3:18 remaining.
The Royals scored the next three points to narrow the gap to 60-58, but Osborne hit one of two free throws before burying a three from the right corner to stretch the Tigers' lead to 64-58 with :48 left.
MLK then came up empty on their next possession before Marshall County ran down the clock to secure the victory.