The Wildcats have hit stride in basketball.
Saks put on a dunk and 3-point shooting display in the second half to finish off its rout of Geraldine in Thursday's first Class 3A Northeast Regional boys semifinal, rolling 74-49.
The Wildcats (16-7) will play Holly Pond on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Jacksonville State University's Pete Mathews Coliseum. Holly Pond beat Weaver 87-78 Thursday.
Saks coach Jonathan Miller likes what he’s seeing from his team.
“This is the best we’ve played,” said Miller, also the school’s head football coach. “At time this year, just to be honest with you, I haven’t liked this team a whole lot, but I thought, even before the season started, what we would be in a position with football lasting so long to peak later in the season.”
Saks’ football team became the first in school history to post a 10-0 regular season and tied the school record with 13 victories after adding three in the state playoffs. The Wildcats reached the state semifinals, playing their final game Nov. 29 … well into basketball season.
“It was real tough,” said senior guard Tre Smith, who starred as Saks’ quarterback in football. “It was like, we were playing basketball games, and we were still talking about football and how we had the best season around here.”
Miller said he took it easy on the basketball team in December.
“They played some games pretty quickly after football, and I didn’t push them too hard,” he said. “I kind of saved that for late January, and so far it’s paid off.”
The Wildcats have clearly hit basketball form, beating Piedmont and Weaver to win the 3A, Area 10 tournament, then routing Cleveland 69-46 in the sub-regional. Thursday saw Saks put on a show against Geraldine (20-12) before a cheering section of nearly 500 students and faculty in Jacksonville State University's Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Daniel Heard finished with 23 points, and Smith added 20. The duo starred in the second-half fireworks.
Heard had three dunks in a short span, staring with an alley-oop from Smith on an inbounds play at the third-quarter buzzer to put Saks up 55-40.
“We had a little spurt in the second quarter, and then in the third quarter, we were hovering within around 10 (points),” Geraldine coach Cale Black said. “Then, just that moment, you look up, and there’s one second, and then to get a dunk like that.
“All of the momentum was in their favor, for sure.”
With one second left in the quarter, Saks dialed up an inbounds play. Demetrius Powell set a high screen, and Heard flashed down as the lane parted wide open.
“I really like that play,” Heard said. “I break it down when he calls for it. They said go up, and I just went up and brought it down.”
Heard also beat Geraldine back in transition for a one-hander at 7:27 in the fourth quarter then slammed home an alley-oop from Darion Coleman in transition.
“I didn’t know he was going to throw that up,” Heard said. “It just came up there, so I got it.”
Smith punctuated the stretch with two of his four 3-pointers. He hit four of five on the day.
By the end of the stretch that saw Heard’s three dunks and Smith’s two 3-pointers, Saks had extended its lead to 69-44 with 5:34 to play.
Saks went on to outscore Geraldine 44-18 in the paint and 28-5 off turnovers. Roc Green added 10 points.
“I just love it when it flows like that,” Smith said. “We feed off our crowd, and we brought the whole school. It really helped out a lot.”
Geraldine got 18 points from Zachery Nelson and 10 from Dalton Forrester.
“All week, I’ve really stressed Saks, and the only word that comes to mind is athleticism,” Black said. “Today, it showed. Their athleticism took over at certain times in the game.”
Contact Sports Columnist Joe Medley at email@example.com. On Twitter, @jmedley_star.
Video of Daniel Heard dunking on an alley-oop pass, followed by a Tre Smith 3-pointer: