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MARIETTA (GA) – The formula for a second-half comeback is pretty simple–get more stops than your opponent and don’t squander those opportunities on the other end of the floor.
Junior Brady Spence, who blocked six shots in the third quarter, was the catalyst behind the shift in momentum which led to Alexander rallying for a 62-52 road victory over Sprayberry in the opening round of the 2018 GHSA Class 6-A state playoffs February 16.
“He’s been doing it all year,” said Alexander coach Jason Slate of the 6-8 Spence. “He’s a game changer. I wish we would do a better job of not putting him in those situations so much but that is what he does. He had great second half with not just blocks but rebounds and he scored.”
While sophomore Jaylon Brown handled most of the scoring and finished with a game-high 19 points, Spence added 13 points to go alongside his total of 12 blocks and 11 rebounds. Senior Sidnie White was instrumental in the comeback as well, collecting 13 points and four steals, which resulted in three quick baskets in the paint.
After trailing 30-22 at the break then by 11 just seconds into the third quarter, the Cougars (16-11) suddenly realized there weren’t any more games on the schedule if they didn’t win this one.
To ignite the surge, Chris’shaun Lunsford and White hit back-to-back jumpers before Spence blocked two shots on the same possession, converted a layup on the other end and Brown nailed a jumper for a 33-32 score with 5:19 left in the quarter.
Following White’s steal and dunk for a 35-35 score during Alexander’s full-court press, Spence continued to turn the restricted area near Sprayberry’s basket into a “no fly zone” by blocking two more shots during one possession and denying two more shots in the lane on separate trips down the floor by the Yellow Jackets.
“We came out soft and I felt we needed to come out strong,” Spence said. “I just kind of turned it on in the second half. I felt really good. I think those blocks got me and the whole team going.”
Now with the scored tied at 37, Spence recorded the assist on the 3-pointer which gave the Cougars the lead for good heading into the fourth quarter. Halfway through the final period, Alexander maintained a slight edge until White scored back-to-back layins before finding Spence for a slam and a 54-46 advantage with just over two minutes remaining.
White added four more points to give him a total of eight in the period and Brown made four free throws, sealing an 8-for-8 performance at the line and a second-round meeting with either No. 1 seed Gainesville or No. 4 seed Pope.
In the first quarter, Sprayberry senior Khadim Samb couldn’t be stopped, scoring 11 (including two dunks) of his 17 points in the frame. He also grabbed nine of his 11 rebounds in opening half. Junior Matt Jenkins added 13 points for the Yellow Jackets, who jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
“In the second half, we started playing Alexander basketball,” Slate said. “I don’t know who that was in the first half. That wasn’t us but I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that this is the very first experience for these kids in the state tournament. They made it a little more than what it was so we kind of talked about that at the half and I thought we came out and played the brand of basketball we talked about all year.”