MMI boys head to Final Four

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 10, 2006

With a sigh of relief, the Marion Military Institute boys are headed back to the AISA Class A Final Four.

The sixth-ranked Tigers defeated AISA No. 5 Lakeside 61-56 Thursday afternoon at the Class A Regional tournament at Huntingdon College in Montgomery. MMI built a 41-22 lead early in the second half only to watch a barrage of Lakeside three-pointers bring the Chiefs within a point, 55-54, with 90 seconds to play.

But center Sam Greene rebounded his own miss to score a huge basket with 1:18 to play, and Javoris smith and Kendrick Moore each hit two free throws in the final minute to ice the MMI victory.

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“I have no idea,” a relieved MMI head coach Dr. Michelle Ivey said when asked how the Tigers had pulled out the victory. “We’re lucky to have gotten a win.”

Luck may have played a part in MMI’s escape at the end. Following Greene’s basket, on successive possession the Chiefs missed a three-pointer that would have tied the game, missed the front end of a one-and-one, and traveled.

But it had little to do with MMI’s scorching first-half performance, in which Greene, forward Wendell Crews, and the other Tigers dominated the boards. Behind multiple second chance opportunities and 10 first-half points for both Greene and Crews, MMI took a 19-11 lead after the first period and a 35-18 lead into halftime. Back-to-back baskets by Smith and Moore gave MMI a seemingly insurmountable 19-point lead three minutes into the third period.

But behind dangerous point guard Blaine Green, who finished with a game-high 20, the Chiefs began firing threes over the MMI zone defense and pulled back into the game. Lakeside closed the third quarter on a 15-2 run to pull within six, 43-37.

A Smith three with 6:06 to play in the ball game pushed the lead back to 51-43, but moments later Lakeside would connect from outside the arc on three straight possessions to cut the lead to two, 55-53, with 2:02 to play.

Green had a chance to tie the game from the line thirty seconds later, but missed the back end of a one-and-one. Thanks to Greene’s hard-won basket on MMI’s ensuing possession, they would never come as close again.

Ivey credited her team’s work on the glass for creating a cushion just big enough for the win.

“That’s one of the things we worked on all week in practice,” Ivey said, “blocking them out and keeping their center away from the ball. We need to defend threes better, though.”

Greene and Smith shared team-high scoring honors with 16 points each, well above Greene’s per-game average. They were followed by Crews with 14, Moore with 9, Andrew Alexander with 3, and Jerome Smith with 3.

MMI will take the court for the Class A semifinals next Wednesday at Huntingdon against a yet-to-be-determined.

The Tigers could be joined by the Warrior Academy Braves, who played Crenshaw Academy Thursday evening for their own slot in the Final Four.