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Greene County survives scare from Dallas County

Two weeks ago, the defending 4A state champion Greene County Tigers looked occasionally disoriented as they played on their own court in Eutaw against Demopolis. Playing Thursday against Dallas County in the University of South Alabama’s cavernous Mitchell Center, the Tigers looked right at home.

Greene County got big games from senior stars Howard Crawford and Curtis Nickson and used a 14-6 run at the end of the first half to break open a close game, coasting to a 69-48 victory in the 4A Southwest Regional semifinals. Greene County will face UMS-Wright in Saturday’s Regional title game for the right to return to the 4A Final Four.

“We just feel at home here,” Greene County head coach Rodney Wesley said after the game. “Our fans came down and gave us great support, which helps a lot. We have several veterans from last year that give us great leadership, and our starting guards, Charlie Hutton and Michael Powell, they’ve never been (to the Final Four), so they’re hungry. With their hunger and our experience, it’s really come together for us the last two games.”

The first of those two was a 56-54 road victory over Escambia County in last Friday’s sub-regionals, but the Tigers made certain in the second quarter that Thursday’s game wouldn’t be as close. Back-to-back baskets by Dallas County’s Eric Ross and Andre Nelson brought the Hornets within four at 17-13 with 3:55 to play in the first half, but Crawford scored 8 of his game-high 17 points in those next four minutes as the Tigers outscored DCHS 14-6 down the stretch to take a 31-19 lead into the locker room.

Greene County would sustain that momentum into the third quarter, effectively sealing the game with a 14-3 run over the last 5:18 of the period that turned a 39-27 lead into an insurmountable 23-point advantage heading into the fourth period.

“Their size and quickness just overwhelmed us,” said first-year Dallas County head coach Willie Moore. “Every shot we had was contested, and when we missed it was one shot and done. We were playing the defending state champions, they’ve been there before and their hunger was greater than ours.”

Crawford hit 8 of his 10 shots to score his 17 points. Along with Nickson, who contributed 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots, the two future UAB Blazers dominated the post area on both ends from the opening tip. GCHS outrebounded the Hornets 46-29 on the day.

“We just wanted the win, and we knew we had to play great defense to get it,” Crawford said. “I felt confident. We’ve been here before, we’ve been to Birmingham before and we know what it takes, so it should be a smooth ride.”

Joining Crawford and Nickson in double figures for Greene County was Powell, with 11 points, and Kelvin Johnson, with 10. They were followed by Neiko Hunter and Quentin McElroy with 4, and Hutton, Terrell Powell, Robert Jones, Alphonzo Benison, and Aundre Woods with 2 points each.

Felix Baker led the way for Dallas County with 17 points, followed by Rafael Miller with 11, Josh Spears and Nelson with 7, and Josh Barnett, Byron Ford, and Ross with 2 each.

While Moore was disappointed with the loss, he was happy with his team’s progress this season and says his team can learn from Greene County’s example.

“That’s what we want for our program. This year was my first year, at a school that hasn’t had any winning basketball for a long time,” he said. “We got great leadership from our senior point guard, Mark Neely. He’ll be sorely missed.”

The Regional final between Greene County and UMS-Wright is set for a 2 p.m. tip-off Saturday.