February 20, 2009
SALLIS -- Two of their fellow division members had already lost and had seasons end Thursday at the Class A South State Tournament.
It didn''t look promising for the West Lowndes Panthers, either, after one quarter against the Dexter Bulldogs at McAdams High School.
After falling behind by 10 points, West Lowndes used its athletic ability to rally for an 80-57 victory.
The Panthers (21-6) are one victory away from the Class A State Tournament in Jackson, and two wins from capturing the South State title.
"It sounds good and I''m really excited about it," West Lowndes coach Herman Peters said. "All we''ve got to do is come out, play ball the way we know how, and we should give a good show."
Dexter (22-8) saw its season end after it had to travel from Tylertown in the North part of the state for the South State Tournament.
Peters felt that could be an advantage.
"I knew they had a good little ride," Peters said. "With them having to leave early, a long ride will wear you out."
The Bulldogs have also been without a gym for four years after Hurricane Katrina''s destruction and have had to prepare for games outdoors.
Dexter coach Steven Fortenberry said they don''t grow athletes in his division like the Panthers have.
"They were more athletic," Fortenberry said. "The district we come from has some good ball teams, but we just haven''t seen a lot of teams up here. The ones that are here are real athletic.
"I knew (West Lowndes) had talent and more athleticism. I don''t think we''ve had a dunk since 2002. We threw traps, full-court and man defenses at them, but the other team was just better. That''s all we could do."
The Panthers cut the 15-5 deficit to 15-9 by the end of the first quarter.
West Lowndes'' unfamiliarity with its opponent played a role in its slow start.
"We were trying to get a feel of the game," Peters said. "We had never seen them before and didn''t know anything about them. We had to find out their strengths and weaknesses, then we just played against their weakness."
The Panthers used a 15-6 run to open the second quarter. A 3-point play by Devin Malone gave them a 24-21 advantage with 5 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the first half.
West Lowndes senior guard Jeremy Smart said success begins and ends with defense.
"Good defense brings good offense," Smart said. "That''s what coach tells us, so we''ll stick to it. We focus on defense first."
That approach was good enough to help the Panthers keep the lead once they got it.
West Lowndes stretched its advantage to 39-31 at halftime and 60-45 after the third quarter.
Smart led the Panthers with 25 points, while Malone had 20. Korey Wilson and Demetrius Malone had 11 points each.
It was a satisfying feeling for Smart, who helped West Lowndes to a semifinal meeting at 7:30 tonight against Durant.
"I had to step up for my team because I''m a senior and wanted to lead my team to victory," Smart said. "I''m happy right now. It''s a good feeling."
Charles Causey had 17 points to lead the Bulldogs, who were 23 of 60 from the field and 1 of 18 from 3-point range.