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EAST POINT (GA) – Tri-Cities had its toughest test at home in region competition so far against Alexander on December 15, and the Bulldogs passed.
Guided by Demetrius Rives’ consistent play throughout, Peyton Daniels’ hot shooting early and Titus Hunter’s clutch play late, the Bulldogs earned a 70-65 win over the Cougars to remain perfect in Region 5-AAAAAA action.
“Before the game our focus was on one word and that was competing,” Tri-Cities coach Omari Forts said. “I thought through the peaks and valleys that is what the focus was. They consistently competed. They didn’t get frustrated about calls that didn’t go our way. We also won the battle of rebounds tonight, I think we ultimately outcompeted them and that was the difference in the game.”
During the first three quarters, Tri-Cities (8-2 overall, 7-0) led majority of the game and by as many as nine then just by four entering the final period since Brady Spence (20 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks), Jaylon Brown (15 points) and Malik Battle (11 points) kept Alexander close.
In the fourth, Hunter (11 points), Rives (16 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks) and Daniels (15 points, four assists) all scored crucial buckets to keep the Bulldogs ahead on the scoreboard.
“The second half is when I always pump up,” Hunter said. “That is when my mentality is to score and look for my teammates.”
“I just wanted to do whatever to help my team win,” Rives said. “This was a great win. We made a statement.”
With just over a minute remaining, Daniels turned a steal into an uncontested layup for a six-point edge but Cornelius Hawkins hit a 3-pointer to cut the margin to 64-61 on the other end of the court. Then with 60 seconds to play, Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1, leaving the door open for the Cougars (8-3, 6-2) to pull even.
But Hawkins missed from deep 30 seconds later and Hunter made his next two foul shots for a five-point cushion. The Bulldogs also made four of their next six shots at the line to seal the win.
“[Titus] is the heart and soul of our team–the leader of our team,” Forts said. “He picked up some early fouls and that kind of got him out of his rhythm. It took him until the fourth quarter to really get it going again. He had some really key plays down the stretch. A couple of critical steals and finishes in transition. That is the guy we don’t run a whole lot of plays for. He just creates his own offense with his toughness and aggression.”
To counter Alexander’s effectiveness in the paint, Tri-Cities had a better showing from the arc, netting seven 3-pointers to the Cougars’ two. In the opening quarter, Daniels drilled three shots from deep. However Daniels made his most impressive 3 in the second when the 6-8 Spence switched onto him and he nailed the shot from the corner after a step-back move.
“I was just in the zone,” Daniels said. “I just had to [get] him one time.”
“[Peyton’s] the best 10th grader in the state,” Forts said. “I will put him up against anybody.”
Da’Marcus Johnson sank the other three 3-pointers on his way to finishing with 13 points.