SYLACAUGA -- Sylacauga High School’s boys basketball team opened Class 5A, Area 8 tournament play with an 84-47 win over Shelby County on Tuesday evening at Douglass-Martin Court.
The Aggies shook off a slow start that put them behind 5-2 in the opening quarter and dominated the remainder of the period with a 23-2 run to go ahead 25-7.
“That’s on me,” Aggies head coach Will Copeland said. “I was trying to play the early game so we could go scout, and it was bad on my part. I shouldn’t have done that because it threw off our whole schedule.
“We got past it, and the kids came out and played after that first little stretch. We did good after we got into the flow with our pressure, and I thought they did good coming back.”
Sylacauga’s defense swarmed Shelby County and forced the Wildcats into turnovers on their own end of the floor. By halftime, the Aggies had built a 44-16 lead.
“It’s just something we work on year-round is pressure, conditioning and being where we’re supposed to be on our press because that’s who we are, that’s what we do and that’s our identity,” Copeland said. “That’s what we work on a lot, so we should be good at it because you need to be good at things you do a lot. We press a lot, so we’ve got to be good at it.”
Shelby County’s offense fared better in the second half, but the Wildcats found themselves in a 61-31 hole going into the fourth quarter. Junior guard Nathan Bates scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in the final period.
The Aggies continued to show off their impressive bench with sophomore Shannon Grant posting a team-leading 16-point effort. Backup senior guard Luke Tankersley notched 12, all from beyond the arc.
Copeland said the duo were part of a deep group that has been groomed to be ready for the postseason.
“We’ve played those guys a lot, and it gets to a point now where it’s crunch time and if you’re on that floor, you’ve got to perform,” he said. “If not, we’ve got people who have done it through the course of the year who have to come in and fill that spot if they can’t do what they’re supposed to do.”
Forward Caden Lunsford and guard Darian Garrett each added 10 points for Sylacauga.
Sylacauga will face Briarwood Christian for the area championship Thursday at 7 p.m. The Lions defeated Moody 79-55 to set up the final.
“I told the guys first thing that we’ve worked hard to be able to host, and that’s what you want to do is play in an area championship (game) on your home floor,” Copeland said. “Either team we play is going to be a good challenge for us, and we’ve just got to come in tomorrow and prepare for whoever we’ve got to play.”
Win or lose in the area title game, the Aggies will move on to sub-regional play. For senior forward Erron Bryant, it’s a chance to take care of unfinished business after making it to the Final Four a year ago.
“That’s the main goal is to get back to the Final Four and, hopefully, win a ring,” he said.