Jordan High senior Jeff Blanton’s evening got off to a rough start against South Atlanta in the opening round of the GHSA state playoffs at Jordan High on Saturday night.
Blanton and the Jackets caught fire in the third quarter to secure a 71-65 victory.
The Jackets will face Coosa in second-round action on Wednesday night. The Jackets will travel to Rome.
Blanton has served as the Jackets’ captain all season until Saturday.
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“Jeff didn’t start tonight,” coach Gerald Turner said. “He’s not my captain. As coach, I had to do it for the team. I have two other seniors that served as captain tonight.”
Turner was calm and jovial after the game. “This is not the state championship,” Turner said. “It’s not celebration time yet.”
Turner had little to celebrate in the first half as his team was plagued by turnovers and poor free-throw shooting. The Red Jackets trailed 30-26 after the first half, which saw them hit only 6 of 14 from the line. For the season, the Jackets hit around 80 percent of their free throws. Against South Atlanta, they were 22 of 38 from the line, for only 58 percent.
Both teams were tentative at the start and neither could seize control of the game. The lead bounced back and forth in the first quarter, with neither team building more than a five-point margin. South Atlanta led throughout the second quarter, leading by as many as five points.
“Everybody comes out hard against us at the beginning,” Turner said. “They use up a lot of energy. We just need to weather the storm in the first half and play our game.”
Turner talked to Blanton and fellow seniors Brandon Simmons and Marcus Powell at halftime.
“Coach told us at halftime that this could be our last game,” Blanton said. “We knew everybody had to step up and weather the storm.”
Blanton, who led all scorers with 24 points, exploded in the third quarter, hitting four 3-pointers in the last five minutes of the period. Jordan’s 50-43 lead was the biggest for either team.
But the Hornets roared back in the fourth. A 10-2 South Atlanta run sliced the Jordan lead from 10 points to only two. The Jackets led 60-58 with 3:15 to play.
Turner called time out with just under two minutes to play and the Jackets slowed it down, forcing the Hornets to foul. Jordan hit 8 of 11 free throws in the last 1:46 to secure the victory.
Jordan is the No. 2 team in Region 5, and South Atlanta was No. 3 from region 6. Jordan posted a season record of 24-3, with a pair of losses to Manchester and one to Northside by a total of eight points. South Atlanta was 22-6 in the regular season, after starting 5-5.
The Red Jackets were the top-ranked team for most of the season and are currently sixth in the Class AA standings. South Atlanta was seventh..
Saturday at Jordan
South Atlanta 15 15 13 22--65
Jordan 15 11 24 21--71
South Atlanta (65)
Boyd 7, Cliatt 4, James Arnold 16, Baisden 4, Glenn 1, Morton 4, Naquavious King 18, Jonathan Range 11.
Daniel 2, Jeff Blanton 24, Sheppard 4, Palmer 5, Smith 8, Cyrus Smith 10, Simmons 8, Marcus Powell 10.
Records: Jordan 25-3, South Atlanta 22-7. Next game: Jordan at Coosa in Rome, Ga., on Wednesday.