• 79°

Longhorn boys headed for state

It took a fourth-quarter run and opportunistic defense, but Marengo Academy clinched its spot in the state tournament with a 68-54 victory over Escambia in the first round of the AISA Class AA, Region 2 Tournament at Marion Military Institute Thursday.

The Longhorns got the better part of a 20-14 first quarter that saw a handful of lead changes. In the second period, Escambia – who split its two regular season games with Marengo – turned up its intensity. For the better part of the next two quarters, EA dominated the Longhorns on the offensive and defensive glass, clogged the passing lanes from its 2-3 zone defense and outran the Longhorns in the transition game.

“They were shooting four and five shots per possession on offense where we were getting one,” Edwards said.

By halftime, the MA lead was down to 35-33 and had evaporated entirely before the end of the third quarter.

“We spent 100 percent of halftime talking about defense,” Marengo Academy head coach Eddie Edwards said. “We didn’t talk about offense until we got back on the floor and we told them to work it to Chase (Smyly), get it in his hands.”

Smyly, the Longhorn center, has served as the team’s go-to scorer for the bulk of the season. However, Thursday, Smyly had just three points in the game’s first half.

“In the second half, (Escambia’s) big guy got tired because he worked so hard to get the ball. After that, we did everything we could to get it into Chase’s hands every trip.”

Smyly rewarded his team for the confidence, scoring 13 of his 16 total points in the second half, helping to fuel a fourth quarter run that saw Marengo outpace Escambia 20-5.

“When they came down to the fourth quarter, they had no gas left in the tank,” Edwards said.

Playing on an injured ankle, junior point guard Matt Wallace kept the team afloat in the first half, scoring 15 points prior to the break before becoming a distributor in the second half and wrapping up his day with 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.

“You can’t replace what Matt Wallace does out there on the floor,” Edwards said of the guard he calls a “coach on the floor.”

As invaluable as Wallace’s contributions are to the Marengo Academy efforts, he was one of five starters to score in double figures on the day. Smyly finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. Weldon Fultz added 12 points, four assists and two steals. Wood Collins had 10 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals while Michael Martin finished with 10 points and four rebounds.

“When you’ve got five guys in double digits, you’re playing team basketball,” Edwards said.

The win advanced his team to the state bracket as well second round of the region tournament where they met rival Southern Academy Friday. SA picked up the win in that game 79-41, sending Marengo to the No. 3 seed game Saturday afternoon.

“The way we look at it, it’s a brand new season. We’re taking it one game at a time,” Edwards said. “Our No. 1 goal was to make the state playoffs. We wanted to keep that streak alive. This will make the fourth straight year we’ve made state.”