“I thought we hustled good, but we were out of control too much,” Talladega head coach Chucky Miller said. “I thought we ran the court good, but we didn’t convert. There’s good things you see, but this game you need to win and go on. We won and survived.”
With the win, Talladega advances to play in the Central Regionals at Alabama State University in Montgomery where they will face Paul Bryant on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
One of Ben Russell’s starting guards, Ronnie Stacy, did not play in the game. He scored 28 points the last time the two teams faced one another and Talladega prevailed 69-66.
It took Talladega a while to get going offensively. The two teams traded scores for the first part of the first quarter. With the score tied at 7-7, Dominic Johnson drove inside and hit a basket, for what would be the start of a 9-2 run. Josh Madden scored a transition basket with a dish from Ahmad Gooden. Lagarious Varner hit two free throws for Ben Russell to cut the lead to 11-9. Talladega answered with a 3-pointer from Dearius Truss, followed by another inside basket for Johnson.
In the second quarter, Talladega’s press defense cut Ben Russell off before they were able to build many meaningful baskets. Justin Kelly scored two points off a Ben Russell turnover to give Talladega a 22-11 lead.
Later, Johnson went up for a shot down low, before tucking moving the ball under and around a defender and put it in off the glass for two points. Kelly followed that up with another transition basket and Damion Hawkins finished a 7-0 run with a 3-point shot from the corner to give Talladega a 29-15 lead.
Talladega finished the first half with more transition baskets, as Truss scored one to give Talladega a 36-23 lead. To close out the half, Madden swiped the ball and made the resulting layup, while Tyrik Norris hit a pull-up jumper to cut Talladega’s lead to 40-26 at halftime.
“We turned up the intensity in the second quarter,” Miller said. “In the first quarter, for some reason, our starters did not come ready to play. They were out of control and you can’t play basketball out of control. We were out of control. When we put in other people, they got us a 12-point lead and that was the game. I congratulate the people who came in and pushed our lead to about 12 points. We held on to it about the whole time.”
Ben Russell countered with a feisty press defense and by utilizing their size advantage in the post to start the third quarter. Javoskie McNeal made a turnaround jumper down low to start an 8-0 run for Ben Russell. Varner got two consecutive offensive rebounds and resulting putbacks. Norris capped the run with another pull-up jumper to cut Talladega’s lead to 40-34.
Just when things were beginning to look tense, Hawkins drove past three defenders and laid it in off the glass for two points to start an 11-2 run for Talladega. D’Angelo Scales followed that with a 3-pointer. Ben Russell used the press to get a steal and a layup by Greg Buckner. Tyler Haynes powered a shot in down low for two points. Then, Truss knocked down a 2-point shot from the corner. Haynes came up with a block on the defensive end and Johnson was fouled before he could get a shot off on the offensive end. He made one of two free throws. Kelly capped the run by fearlessly going in for a dunk one-on-one against the 6-foot-6 Varner. Varner fouled him and he made one of two free throws to give Talladega a 51-36 lead. Ben Russell ended the quarter on a 10-4 run to cut the lead down to 55-46.
Gooden started the fourth quarter out on the right note with an offensive rebound and putback, followed by a steal and lay-in to push the lead to 59-46.
In the fourth quarter, Talladega converted only five of 17 free throw attempts cutting down their sizable double-digit lead. However, they had built too big a lead for Ben Russell to overcome.
“If we don’t shoot free throws better, it’s going to be a short rest of the season,” Miller said. “This is two straight games that we’ve shot free throws terrible at the end of the game. Tonight, 16 5A teams went home. So, we’ve got to go try to get one more win and eight more 5A teams go home. That is the key right now is: just get a little better.”