MACON – Strange things can happen when a team steps on the biggest stage of the season. The strange things that happened to Jordan’s boys as they stepped on the floor Thursday in the GHSA AA Final Four in Macon weren’t the positive kind.
Senior Jeff Blanton, the team’s scoring and emotional leader, went scoreless in the first half and the Red Jackets, who like to jump on teams early, never had the lead in a 52-44 loss to Laney.
Laney bolted out to an 8-0 lead before Jordan’s Tony Palmer hit jumper to get the Red Jackets on the board.
Jordan climbed back into the game and cut Laney’s lead to 8-6 when Marcus Powell made the second of two free throws. At that point, Laney’s 6-foot, 6-inch center Shaquille Cook, became a dominant force on offense and defense.
In the final five minutes of the first quarter, Cook scored 12 points, blocked four shots and had 12 rebounds, five on the offensive end to help Laney to a 22-13 lead after eight minutes of play.
“The motivation, the anticipation and the adrenaline were great,” Laney coach Jerry Hunter said about Cook. “We had a good scouting report on this team. He came out and established the tempo early. I was very impressed with what he did and how he played.”Jordan coach Gerald Turner was also impressed with Laney’s early play and Cook’s especially.
“That, I thought, was the difference in the game,” Turner said. “We got off to a very slow start. They really dictated the tempo of the game and took it to us.
“The guy was a beast inside in the first half. We didn’t think he was in great condition to sustain that, which he didn’t,” Turner continued. “He hurt us the second half but not as much as he did in the first half. We didn’t really get hurt from the outside, we got hurt on the inside.”
Down nine points after the first quarter and eight at the half, the Red Jackets battled in the third quarter and were down only two heading in the fourth quarter. And they got their offense from an unlikely source.
Powell, Jordan’s 6-5 senior center who matched up against Laney’s Cook, scored 10 points in the quarter, including six straight near the end of the quarter.
“It was pretty tough,” a subdued Powell said after the game when talking about playing against Cook. “He beat me in the first half and coach said it was time for me to take over. I tried my best, I made some shots but it wasn’t enough.”
Turner said it wasn’t his team’s plans to watch Powell go one-on-one against Cook, but he liked what he saw.
“Powell did what he had to do. He showed that he is a senior,” Turner said. “It wasn’t our plan to feed him but he stepped up. It was a good matchup. I enjoyed that watching that matchup. Those guys were eye-to-eye.”
Jordan rallied to tie the score at 41 on a Zay Smith layup with 7 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
“We weathered the storm and showed our toughness to come back,” Turner said. “This is a good group of kids.”
But at that point Laney’s experience ¬– this is the Wildcats third consecutive trip to the Final Four and their first win – shown, mainly in the form of senior guard Glenn Rodriguez. He scored all seven of his points in the final quarter and controlled the tempo and the ball as the Jordan defenders began fouling to stop the clock.
“The one thing we told him at half time was ‘Son, you’re getting to the basket but you’re not finishing. If you continue to get to the basket and eventually you’ll finish.’ “ Hunter said. “We’ve been winning different ways throughout the season and he rose to the occasion and helped us out.”
Jordan’s poor first-half shooting, the Red Jackets missed 18 of the 25 shots they took in the first half, also helped Laney build a lead.
“Normally, the shots we take fall, but tonight they didn’t,” Turner said. “It happens. You coach long enough and that happens.”
Blanton was scoreless in the first half and scored just two points in the game.
“He’s the type of kid that whatever it takes to be successful as a team he’ll do,” Turner said. “He wasn’t feeling well tonight. There were a couple of times he asked to come out and he never asks to come out of a game. When a kid does that something is wrong with him.”Jordan’s season ends at 27-4, which is tied for the most Turner’s 25 seasons at Jordan, including the 2007 season when the Red Jackets won the state title at the AAA level.
“We have a lot to be proud of,” Turner said. “These kids did things that very few people get to do. We look to improve every year and we only won 20 games last year. To win 27 this year is a testament to the kids in there.”But will Turner, who has already retired as a teacher, be back to coach the talent that will be back for Jordan?“I take that year-by-year,” Turner said with a laugh. “Year-by-year. But by every account you can come up with, this has been a successful year.”
Friday from MaconLaney 22 5 12 13 – 52Jordan 13 6 19 7 – 44
Laney (52)Shaquille Cook 22, Jammie West 13, Harris 2, Newton 4, Hightower 2, Taylor 2, Rodriguez 7 Jordan (44)Marcus Powell 14, Zay Smith 10, Sheppard 9, Palmer 5, Blanton 2, Simmons 2, Daniel 2