By Tony Burns
MONTICELLO - Junction City went scoreless during the final six minutes of the 2A State semifinals. The drought cost the Dragons their season Saturday as they were eliminated by McGehee 43-34 at Drew Central High School.
It was the Owls' fifth win over Junction City this season as they improved to 27-4 and advanced to the state championship game.
"It feels great," said McGehee coach Jerome Pace. "It's been a long time. Our guys have been doing what they needed to do all year, just trusting each other. It's the best feeling in the world."
The teams knew each other well, which made for a grind-it-out, defensive game plan. Everything was in the paint for the Dragons, who hit just one 3-pointer, by Dhante Gibson, in the game. Jalen Davis and Jerrodney Tubbs combined for 25 of Junction City's points.
Davis scored 13 with five rebounds. Tubbs scored 12 with eight boards against a defense geared to stop the big post man.
"We just tried to double him every time he'd get it," said Pace. "That's all we can do, just double-down on him and hope he don't score. That's all you can do in a situation like that. He's tough."
Junction City got off to a good start and led 18-12 late in the first. Coryontae Smart answered with back-to-back 3-pointers for the Owls, who took a 21-18 lead with a 9-0 spurt. The Dragons, led by Tubbs, regained the advantage at 26-23 before McGehee's Daryl Polite drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game at the half.
Junction City led 32-28 after a basket by Shuvasceiaye Frazier with 5:04 left in the third. But, the Owls got a steal and lay-up from Deonta Haynes and cut the deficit to 32-31 heading into the final period after a free throw by DeWayne Railey.
The Dragons would muster just one basket in the final period, however, despite opportunities both on the break and at the foul line. McGehee's Polite was whistled for his fourth foul and a technical foul on the same play and went to the bench early in the fourth. Junction City missed on both technical free throws.
McGehee responded with buckets by Zac Henry and Railey to take a 35-32 lead with 6:23 left in the game. The Dragons fought back as Davis scored inside and drew a foul. He missed the free throw but the deficit was just 35-34.
With six minutes left on the clock, McGehee pulled the ball out to the perimeter and worked it. Finally, the Owls got the ball to Haynes at the free throw line. He made a quick burst to the hoop for the basket with 2:08 left to play.
"We finally slowed it down and got a little bit patient," said Pace. "They were blocking us from getting to the basket. That's where we want to play at so we just had to figure out another way to get there. Finally, we got them to spread out a little bit late and it created some openings on the inside."
Of the decision to pull the ball out, Pace explained, "I was trying to get them to spread out some. Just get them impatient. I didn't want to be impatient. I wanted them to get impatient and come out and make a mistake."
The way the game was going, the three-point cushion felt insurmountable.
As it turned out, it was.
Junction City missed a 3-pointer which led to a bucket by McGehee's Javier Robinson. The Owls hit four free throws in the final 1:21 to put the game away.
For the Dragons, Tubbs hit 4-of-7 free throw attempts. The rest of the team was a combined 0-for-6 at the line.
Haynes led McGehee with 12 points.