A month ago it would have been hard to believe Tri-Cities would even be in state playoffs.
After an improbable run to the Region 2-AAAAAA title, the Bulldogs now have a state tournament win to their credit after whipping Luella 67-51 Tuesday night at home.
As recently as a week ago, they were looking for their 10th win. They had lost their point guard in Emmanuel Rainey and they ground their way through the last month of the regular season, looking for ways to fill his shoes.
In his place, though, DeAndre Slaughter learned how to be a point guard , and it was Slaughter’s confident start Tuesday night that buried Luella early.
“We just wanted to attack,” said Slaughter. “Attack, attack attack. Attack the basket, attack the big guys and then if they get help, distribute the ball.”
Slaughter scored 20 points, nine of them coming in the first quarter, as the Bulldogs jumped out to a big early lead and was never seriously threatened.
Tri-Cities (11-15) had its full complement of players Tuesday night. Rainey, who missed a month with a foot injury, scored 15and Shawntrez Davis 17.
“It’s very new to us,” said Rainey. “My goal coming back was to make it to state, and then see how far we can go.”
The Bulldogs led 24-9 at the end of the first period before hitting a second-quarter lull, enabling the visiting Lions (16-12) to pull within 30-23 by halftime.
But Tri-Cities took control with a 10-2 to run early in the third quarter.
“Our guys came out with a lot of energy and really executed the game plan in the first quarter,” said Tri-Cities coach Omari Forts. “We got away from it a little bit in the second period. They’re a good team and this is the playoffs, so we knew they’d make a run. We just wanted to keep attacking the basket.”
The Bulldogs opened the third quarter with an 11-3 run to push the lead to 58-37.
After that Luella got no closer than 11 points, that coming at 45-34 in the final minute of the third period.
The Bulldogs’ biggest lead came at 65-41 after Rainey’s two free throws with 1:33 to play, after which Forts pulled his starters.
TaMarcus Blanton scored 17 and Nyrryk Evans added 11 for Luella.