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Lanett takes down Aliceville, advances to state final

BIRMINGHAM — The countdown began nearly a month ago.

Before it toppled Class 7A power Central-Phenix City on Jan. 30, the Lanett High School boys basketball team had 10 possible games remaining on its schedule.

The Panthers wanted to go 10-0 in that stretch, beginning with the contest against Central and ending with the 2A state championship.

They are now only one victory away from achieving their goal.

On Monday night at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center, Lanett (25-5) took down Aliceville, 75-64, in the 2A state semifinal.

The Panthers will vie for a third consecutive 2A state title in Friday’s final against St. Luke’s.

“I want to compliment Aliceville,” Lanett head coach Richard Carter said. “I told them before we came out tonight that it was going to be a tough ball game. They were 20-2 and had a really good basketball team. They fought and fought, but tonight it was our night.”

Lanett looked comfortable from the outset. The Panthers took a 16-5 lead late in the opening quarter behind the efforts of seniors Emanuel Littles, Anquaevious Pollard and Ty Truitt.

Littles, who stands 6-foot-8, established his presence in the post quickly. He cleaned up the boards on back-to-back first-quarter possessions, dropping in one rebound from above the rim and finishing another with a two-handed jam that forced Aliceville to take a timeout.

The dunk also quieted a crowd that favored the Yellow Jackets, who made their first final four appearance since 1993.

“Usually we come out of kind of slow, so today we had to come out and let them know we wasn’t here to play, that we was coming here to make a statement from the get-go,” said Littles, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. “We put our foot on the gas.”

After the timeout, Littles threw down a dunk more emphatic than his first. Truitt then followed with a 3 that enabled Lanett to take an 18-9 lead into the second quarter.

That’s when Pollard seized control. He connected from all over the court in the second period, but his best work came in the interior. With less than two minutes left in the frame, he grabbed his own rebound — twice — and scored on a third-chance putback.

Pollard ended the half by drilling a long, contested 3 from the right wing, sending Lanett to the locker room with a 35-26 advantage. He had 14 of his game-high 22 points at the break and went 10-of-22 from the field in the game.

As a team, the Panthers shot 50 percent.

“The whole week of practice we’ve really been focusing on our shot, focusing on defense,” Pollard said.

The Panthers’ defensive composure allowed them to withstand an Aliceville surge in the third quarter. The Yellow Jackets knocked down four 3s in the first five minutes of the second half, twice closing the gap to three points.

But each time Lanett answered.

After Aliceville cut it to 40-37, Truitt, who tallied 21 points, canned a 3 from the left wing. The Panthers then countered range with power following another Aliceville triple that trimmed the deficit to 43-40 with 3:25 left in the period.

Pollard and Trikweze Bridges made moves in the paint to score a pair of layups. As the period wound down, Lanett built a double-digit edge that it brought into the final frame, 52-42.

The Yellows Jackets lost their shot down the stretch and never pulled closer than eight points the rest of the way.

Lanett will try to replicate its stout performance on Friday against St. Luke’s (22-8), which beat Tanner in Monday’s other semifinal, 72-65. The schools know each other well.

In 2016, Lanett beat St. Luke’s in the final, 73-48, to clinch its first state basketball title.

Now, the Panthers will try to make history repeat itself.

“I just want to thank the good Lord for bringing us to this point again,” Carter said. “I think it speaks volumes not for what I’ve done, but for what these young men and their comrades have done.”

Tipoff is set for 11:45 a.m. EST at the BJCC.