Tigers going to the 'Boro'
There are only eight slots available at the state tournament in Murfreesboro and the Marshall County Tigers punched their ticket as one of the elite eight, coming away with a gut wrenching, hard fought 47-36 victory over Martin Luther King in a TSSAA sectional game Monday night at the Dottie Kelso Memorial Gymnasium in Lewisburg.
MCHS head coach Jason Tigert said about the tough win, "We knew it was going to be one of those battles. The referees let us play tonight, it was very physical and our guys did not back down and either did they. It was one of those classic sub-state games."
MLK head coach James Shelton and his staff did their homework, compiling a game plan to try to stop Kedren Johnson from single-handedly beating them like he did versus Spring Hill in the region title game when he controlled the game from the outset, scoring 44 points.
But Tigert did his studying too, knowing the Royals would go that route, trying to limit Class AA Mr. Basketball finalist Johnson from beating them.
"Martin Luther King had a great game plan," said Tigert. "They did a wonderful job preparing for this game. It took all six kids that we played tonight. It was a true team effort. They took Kedren out of it, but we had other kids step up."
MLK's David Sanders, who led all scorers in the game with 19 points scored off of the tip for the Royals before Tiger senior Jamie Perryman set the tone of Tigert's game plan, burying the first of his four three-bombs on the night as the Royals surrounded Johnson in a triangle defense.
A jubilant Perryman, who led the Tigers in scoring with 17 points, said after the contest, "We knew all week they would be trying to play a triangle one or a triangle two on Kedren, but I know how to pull the trigger and that is what I did."
Marshall County would make seven three's in the ballgame, compared to zero for MLK and that was the difference.
MLK stayed close early, trailing 7-6 before Brock Spencer got in the long-range act for MCHS, draining a three-ball from the corner.
After MLK missed two free throws, Perryman went deep again and then one more time before Sanders scored at the end of the period, making it 16-8 Lewisburg after the first eight minutes.
Johnson did not score in the first quarter, but made great decisions with the ball, finding his open teammates and playing great defense.
In quarter number two, Tiger freshman Kevin Peterson made his mark from beyond the three-point stripe, hitting a three-bomb to begin the period and then another long missile after MLK had cut the home squad's lead to 21-17.
The Royals kept battling, cutting the Tigers' to 24-21 before Johnson finally tallied his first bucket with just under three minutes to play in the first half, making it 26-21.
Johnson would finish with 16 points.
Once again, MLK hung tough and trailed by a single point, 26-25 at the half time intermission.
Like all great players do, Johnson stayed patient and then exploded in the third period, scoring eight out of the Tigers' ten tallies in the stanza.
Johnson scored in the lane to open the quarter and after Austin Gardenhire scored for MLK, Johnson banked in a three-bomb from the top of the key, making it 31-27.
A Royal missed shot led to another Johnson bucket at the other end, making it 33-27, forcing Shelton to call timeout with 5:57 left in the quarter.
Moments later, Johnson electrified the packed house and the Kelso Crazies, swatting an MLK field goal attempt way up into the visitor's stands.
Nick Hill hit one of two from the line for MLK before Perryman went deep again, making it a 36-28 ballgame with 3:46 left in the period.
The only two points scored over the next four minutes was by MLK and the Tigers led 36-30 after twenty-four minutes.
MLK scored first in the final quarter before the Tigers made their move towards Murfreesboro as Perryman and Johnson scored on back-to-back trips down the floor, opening up a 40-32 lead.
Sanders pulled up for a leaping leaner in the paint for the Royals, who were desperately trying to stay in the contest.
Johnson answered with a fade away jumper in the corner and then hit one of two from the line on the next trip down the floor, staking the Tigers to a 43-34 lead.
MLK called timeout 3:18 left in the game and then turned the rock over after the stoppage and Perryman made them pay for the miscue, hitting two crucial free throws with 4:11 left.
Another Royals' timeout led to another mistake and Jordan Anderson hit a single charity shot, making it a ten-point game at 44-34.
From there the Tigers put the game to rest, winning by the eleven-point margin to earn their first trip to Murfreesboro since the 2001-2002 season when they finished as state runners-up.
Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pittino was in the crowd watching Johnson, along with several other dignitaries including Jason Maxwell and they watched as the Kelso Crazies stormed the floor in jubilation as time expired.
Johnson said after the game, "Everybody thinks it's just me, but I have a great supporting cast. We play good team ball and we win by playing great defense and good team ball. Just going to Murfreesboro is not our goal. We want to win down there and then come home."