By Andrew Moore
CULLEOKA — In a Region 5-A quarterfinal that was close from the start, Culleoka pulled away to a 69-58 win Saturday over visiting McEwen.
The victory sets up a Tuesday semifinal trip for the Warriors to District 9-A titlist Jo Byrns.
Trailing 32-29 at the half, Culleoka swung the momentum coming out of the locker room and outscored McEwen 40-26 over the final 16 minutes.
“Give the guys credit,” coach Mike Lovett said. “McEwen did go up on us … but we didn’t panic.”
Though outrebounded through the first half, Culleoka identified Marcus Carter as McEwen’s ‘difference maker’ and focused on him defensively over the final two periods.
“(Carter) had 10 points heading into halftime and we knew he might be the difference maker,” Lovett said. “So I had the guys trail him the rest of the game to make sure he wasn’t getting open shots.
“Other than that, we just offensively pushed.”
It was that push that allowed Culleoka to take over the game midway through the third quarter.
“The difference was, in the first half we’d pass and take a bunch of big shots, a bunch of quick 3s and those were all one-and-done,” Lovett said. “(In the second half) we got transition stops, we got the ball out, we ran our offense and I think that’s what helped.”
Landon Andrews and Cooper Parks, each of whom were recognized as 1,000-point scorers, were among four double-digit scorers Saturday night. Andrews and Erik Mick finished with 16 points each, while Parks had 13 and Tavon Bagsby 12.
“We haven’t had anyone hit (1,000) since 2006, Demario Williams,” Lovett said. “They’ve both worked hard. I got both those guys my first year hear. That’s special to watch these guys grow, not just as basketball players but as men.
“You have to give it up for these guys. They bought in. They’ve worked with the guys around them and they’ve trusted the guys around them.”
Looming next for Culleoka is a Jo Byrns squad that defeated Santa Fe 61-43 in Saturday’s quarterfinals. Culleoka defeated Santa Fe in two of three matchups this season.
“Jo Byrns is legit,” Lovett said. “We just have to make sure defensively that we are locked in. I think they have some really crucial players. We played them (in the region quarterfinals) last year and I think they got them all back, so we have to make sure we lock in defensively and continue with this wave of momentum moving forward.”
Culleoka boys 69, McEwen 58
M 12 20 11 15 — 58
C 15 14 19 21 — 69
McEwen (58) — Garrett Wright 7, Marcus Carter 17, Joseph Swearinger 10, Caleb Wilson 8, Aaron Mayberry 3, Tommy Willis 13
Culleoka (69) — Tavon Bagsby 12, Landon Andrews 16, Cooper Parks 13, Erik Mick 16, Hunter Harris 7, Chris Hutcherson 2, Ranger Graham 3
3-pointers — McEwen 3 (Carter, Mayberry, Willis), Culleoka 8 (Bagsby 2, Andrews 3, Mick 3)
Photos by Vanessa Beach / SM-Tn Sports