SYLACAUGA -- Sylacauga High School’s boys basketball team overcame a brutal first-quarter performance to claim the Class 5A, Area 8 title over Briarwood Christian 68-63 at Douglass-Martin Court.
The Lions appeared to catch the Aggies off guard in the opening period and grabbed a 20-11 advantage, but Sylacauga fought back and closed the deficit to 33-32 before halftime.
“The first thing I just want to say -- to God be all the glory of this,” Sylacauga head coach Will Copeland said. “If anything was good out of tonight, to Him goes the glory. Second of all, we got off to a bad start, but it had a lot to do with them (Briarwood Christian). They’re very well-coached, they’ve got good players and they run their stuff offensively and defensively very well.
“We struggled with it and we missed 12 free throws in the first half. They hit wide-open shots, and we talked all week about making shots and getting out to shooters. They had guys coming off the bench making shots.”
With his team trailing 43-42 late in the third quarter, Aggies junior Desmon Jones hit a go-ahead basket that was part of an 8-3 run that allowed Sylacauga to close the period with a 49-46 lead it did not relinquish.
“The second half, especially down the stretch, we did a good job of making free throws and being clutch on making free throws,” Copeland said. “Darian (Garrett), Malik (Powell) and Keaton (Wilson), they made free throws down the stretch, and that helped us.”
The Lions fought to keep pace with the Aggies and pulled within four in the final 25.3 seconds, but a one-handed dunk by Malik Crawford with 14 seconds to go made the score 68-62 and essentially put the game out of reach.
“I could be happier with the result, but I couldn’t be (more proud) of my guys,” Lions head coach James Kerley said. “They did everything we talked about coming in here. They showed great toughness and showed great hustle …
“It’s just two tough teams. It’s turned into a rivalry that I really enjoy doing. I have a great relationship with Coach (Copeland) and appreciate what he does, how he tries to raise young men just like we do. It was fun. These kinds of games are why we play.”
Crawford led the Aggies with 22 points, while Garrett added 14.
Wilson, who finished with 11 points, earned a spot on the all-tournament team and MVP honors. Erron Bryant also represented Sylacauga on the all-tournament team.
“Me and my guys, we knew we had to get back to where we wanted to be,” Wilson said. “The Final Four, that’s our dream place. My teammates picked me up the second half. I had a rough first half, but they picked me up at halftime. I came back out in the second half and just had a great half. I owe it all to my teammates for picking me up.”
Briarwood Christian had three players finish in double figures -- point guard Carson Donnelly (16), Zackary Nuyt (16) and Michael Hiers (14). Donnelly was the Lions’ lone representative on the all-tournament team.
Shelby County’s Nathan Bates and Moody’s Talan Files rounded out the all-tournament team.
Sylacauga will host Demopolis in sub-regional play on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
“This time of year, you’ve just got to go with what you’ve got, and you’ve got to play every game, because from now on, it’s (win) or go home,” Copeland said. “We’ve got to come out every day and prepare for the next team we’ve got to play.”