PLAYOFF TIME IN MILLEDGEVILLE: Trojans cruise past Knights for region championship
Photos by Bailey Clark
The John Milledge Academy boys basketball team capped off a dominant regular season with their fifth region title in the last six years. JMA treated a packed Trojan Center to a blowout win as the crowd favorites stormed past the Bethlehem Christian Academy Knights 68-33 Friday night.
The Trojans went undefeated in Region 4-AAA play this season and moved to an incredible 19-2 overall record with the title-clinching victory. The Knights ranked second in the region this season with a 17-9 record.
Eighth-year head coach David Gallagher was all smiles after watching his players hoist another region trophy.
“The guys earned it,” Gallagher said. “They bought in this year, and the way they are playing defense together will give us a chance to win a lot of games. I’m just so proud of the guys and happy they got to experience this.”
Right from tipoff, the Trojans gave their fans a lot to cheer about. They opened the game in dominant fashion with a quick 15-5 run, highlighted by several steals and transition buckets for the home team. Belmont University commit Keith Robbins set the tone with 12 first-quarter points. Although he watched from the bench with his fellow starters for most of the second half, the senior star still finished the night with 17 points in just over 19 minutes of action.
In the blink of an eye, the Trojans ballooned their first-quarter advantage as they ended the period up 27-11. JMA junior Briggs Eady knocked down two triples to help extend his team’s lead, ultimately finishing the game with seven points. Eady also delivered several pretty passes, tying his twin Banks for a team-high five assists.
In the second quarter, JMA completely ran away with it. Senior Marcus Prestwood led the team with seven points in the quarter. Prestwood hit the glass hard all night long, posting a phenomenal double-double with 12 points and 18 rebounds.
The suffocating Trojan defense allowed just four points in the second period, executing their full-court press to perfection. At halftime, they headed into the locker room with a whopping 46-15 lead.
The JMA lead only grew larger in the third as Robbins nailed a three-pointer to begin the second-half scoring. Halfway through the quarter, the starters left the floor, and the younger reserves were able to finish out the game.
JMA sophomore Jalan Butts led the second unit with nine points, four dimes, and four steals. Butts made his presence known on both sides of the ball, displaying his athleticism and energy throughout the evening. Seniors Grayson Aldridge and Tommy Collier also provided contributions off the bench. Aldridge drained two of his three attempts from beyond the arc while Collier tallied six points of his own on a perfect 3-for-3 shooting clip.
Both coaches emptied their benches for the entirety of the fourth, and while the Bethlehem reserves cut into the lead slightly, it was too late for a final push. The Trojan Center erupted as players and coaches celebrated the victory with classmates and parents.
JMA has emphasized team basketball all season long, and tonight, the ball was flying everywhere for the Trojans as they dissected the Bethlehem defense with a remarkable display of ball movement and team play. The region champs finished the contest with 22 assists on 26 made baskets, shooting an efficient 50% from two-point range.
Despite their clear offensive talent, the Trojans lean on defense as their team identity.
“It (defense) definitely is our identity,” Gallagher said. “It’s the defensive rotations, how we play defense as a team, and winning the first three seconds on transition, both defensively and offensively. Our defense creates a lot of offense for us, and that definitely happened tonight.”
The Trojans will look to carry their momentum into the GISA AAA boys state tournament. The top-seeded defending champions will begin their title defense Wednesday when they return to the Trojan Center to host the first round of the playoffs.