Feb. 5—The John Milledge Academy boys basketball team snapped a four-game losing streak against Stratford Academy Friday night.
By no means was it easy. The Trojans trailed by as many as 12 points midway through the second quarter, but kept their heads down and played well down the stretch to defeat the Eagles 61-58 inside the Trojan Center.
Now in his second year at the helm, JMA boys head coach Mitch Risley's results against Stratford until Friday could best be summed up by the phrase, "close, but no cigar." The Trojans over the last two seasons had lost to the Eagles by margins of three, nine, seven, and four points in their last four meetings.
"They've had our number four games in a row, so it felt good to finally get over that barrier and come out with a win," Risley said.
Stratford is the defending state champ in GIAA Class AAAA and is second in the league's highest classification as of the latest MaxPreps power ranking update. The Eagles also boast one of the best players in the entire league in guard Khalil Green, whose college offers include Georgia, Auburn, Florida State, and others according to recruiting service On3. The talented senior finished with a game-high 26 points, half of which came from the free throw line. His play, coupled with a slow start by JMA, allowed Stratford to be up 27-15 around the midpoint of the second quarter.
The Trojans were able to close the gap to four by halftime. A 3-pointer by big post man Brandon Watson narrowed the deficit to one coming out of the break. The Eagles hammered back again though, and it was clear the Trojan Center crowd was in for a fun finish. The team that wound up winning didn't hold the lead until the 1:30 mark in the third when some swift ball movement opened JMA senior Bud Veal up for a 3 that made the score 39-38 Trojans. A couple more makes by both sides later, Stratford was able to carry a slight 43-42 advantage into the final frame.
Risley needed a total team effort to overcome the Stratford hurdle, and that's what he got through those last eight minutes.
"We had a lot of guys step up and play their butts off," he said.
Senior post player Isaiah Womble was in foul trouble with his fourth whistle early in the fourth. Up stepped the lengthy Solomon Burney. Coming off the bench, the 6-5 senior used his long wingspan to block Stratford's 6-8 big man twice in just a couple of minutes' time, which served as a spark while the game hung in the balance.
The score sat tied 49-49 with a shade over three minutes remaining. The turning point came soon after when Womble passed to Isaiah Johnson who sent the ball over to a waiting Veal on the left wing. The guard shot home the go-ahead 3 that saw his team take the lead and never give it up. Womble helped widen the margin on the inside before fouling out, and Johnson followed a Veal miss with just under a minute to play to get the lead back to five. Jalan Butts, who largely struggled from the line Friday, did make both on a one-and-one trip to make things more comfortable in the closing minutes. That was good for the Trojans because Stratford would eventually get back to within three. With two seconds left, Butts put on his wide receiver shoes and accepted a deep inbounds pass before being fouled immediately to be sent back to the line. He missed both, but the loose ball was fumbled around until the final buzzer sounded.
The Trojans spread their scoring around with five guys finishing between nine and 12 points. Butts and Veal led the way with 12 apiece. Womble had 11 and 10 rebounds while both Johnson and DJ Lundy totaled nine points each to help their team.
Although the two sides split during the regular season, Stratford is likely to take the top seed heading into next week's region tournament thanks to a head-to-head point differential tiebreaker. That means JMA will probably have to go through Tattnall Square Academy, a team it has beaten by 20 and 15 points this season, in order to force a rubber match against Stratford for the region title in what would be a very entertaining game should it happen.
The JMA boys (13-7 overall) dropped their Saturday game against a strong Trinity Christian squad out of Dublin. The Trojans have one regular season game remaining, and it's at home Tuesday night against Mount de Sales.