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Blue Devils down host T.R. Miller to take tourney title

By By Scott Cooper
Special to the Advance
BREWTON – The Escambia County Blue Devils downed the T.R. Miller Tigers 59-42 in the championship finale of the T.R. Miller Holiday Invitational held over the weekend at T.R. Miller's Gym.
The Tigers and Blue Devils had split two hard-fought games played earlier in the season and their third meeting promised to be the same type intensely-contested affair. Although both teams competed hard and with the intentions of earning the tournament championship, the Blue Devils' domination in the second half allowed them to return home with the prized trophy.
In the tournament's Jan. 4 championship finale between the Blue Devils and The T.R. Miller Tigers, the lead changed hands repeatedly in the opening half before the Blue Devils seized a slim 4-point advantage at intermission.
In the final 16 minutes of play, Escambia County's defense took the Tigers out of sync in their offensive efforts. Meanwhile, the Escambia County offense operated like a well-oiled machine and continually kept the Miller defense on its heels in an impressive 59-42 Blue Devils' win that earned them the tournament championship.
The win improves the Blue Devils to 13-3 on the season while the loss places the Tigers' season record at 9-4.
Both teams began the contest crashing the boards and playing with the intensity one would expect in a title game.
The Blue Devils grabbed a quick 2-0 lead on a Kenneth Clark basket before the Tigers tied the game at 2-2 on a drive to the hole by DaWaun Johnson. Following 3-point jump shots by Johnson and Greg Bogan, the Miller lead was upped to six points, 8-2, with 6:10 left in the opening quarter.
Over the next three minutes, Escambia County took advantage of a basket by Phillip Sharp and 3-pointers by Lorenzo Arnold and Jeremy McCants to cut the Miller lead down to one, 11-10. After a Layton Knight basket gave the Blue Devils a 12-11 lead, a Johnson 3-pointer coupled with a Neal Cheatham putback after grabbing a rebound gave the Tigers a 16-12 quarter-ending advantage.
With both teams playing a packed-in zone defense in the second stanza, neither offense had much success penetrating into the lane. The defensive intensity of the two squads was reflected in the low-scoring period.
Consecutive baskets by Ryheem Drakeford opened a 21-14 Tiger lead with 3:50 left in the half, but then the Blue Devils went on a 12-1 run. Knight, McCants and Clark caught fire in the rally that allowed Escambia County to enter the halftime break up by four, 26-22.
In the third quarter, the Blue Devils rode the hot hand of McCants while stretching their advantage to a comfortable margin. With McCants responsible for five of Escambia County's 13 points in the period, the Blue Devils leaped out front, 39-28, as the teams entered the final-quarter showdown.
Any comeback thoughts of the Tigers were soon put to rest by the Blue Devils' fourth-period performance.
After a Johnson basket cut the Escambia County lead down to eight, 41-33, with just over 6:00 remaining, Clark and Knight took over on the offensive end in an 18-9 game-ending run that put the wraps on the Blue Devils' 17-point championship victory.
Scoring leaders for the Blue Devils were Layton Knight, 22 points; Kenneth Clark, 16 points; Jeremy McCants, 12 points and Lorenzo Arnold, 10 points. Offensive leaders for the Tigers were DaWaun Johnson, 13 points and Neal Cheatham, 11 points.