Panthers use fourth quarter to take down LaFayette and win 2A area 6 championship

Published 9:28 pm Thursday, February 9, 2023

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The Lanett-LaFayette rivalry continues to be the premier rivalry in Chambers County, and the Panthers walked into LaFayette’s gym and took down the Bulldogs for a 57-51 win on Thursday.

Lanett head coach Tay McCants was thrilled to get the big win.

“I feel so good,” McCants said.

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“My team came out and fought to the end. We got down a couple times, but my guys grinded it out.”

LaFayette head coach Chase Lewis knows this was a learning experience for his team.

“We did OK,” Lewis said.

“We just played a team who has a winning tradition. One thing about playing Lanett is this doesn’t faze them. They’ve been in championships. To my guys, this is new. We have good basketball players, but we have to work on staying focused. We needed this game. I feel like we have some tournament experience now. We had some nerves at the end. We just have to learn how to get those nerves out.”

The first quarter was a duel between the speedy Panthers and decisive Bulldogs.

The game started out with a three by Elijah Whitfield just to be countered by a Martavian Dunn three.

Neither team had a stable lead until the Bulldogs mounted a 7-0 run in the first quarter with baskets from Branaviyun Story and Tamarion Harrington.

Harrington had a monster start and had a dunk at the end of the first quarter to help the Bulldogs take a 19-14 lead heading into the second quarter.

Lanett came back in the second quarter thanks to some clutch threes, including one with three minutes left in the half to tie the game at 25.

Although the Panthers never held the lead, Whitfield and Jr. Bynum made key plays in  transition to keep the game close.

The Bulldogs took a 35-30 lead thanks to 10 first half points from Harrington and Vaderrian Story.

Whitfield led the Panthers in scoring with 14 points at halftime and had 21 by the end of the game.

The third quarter saw another back and forth battle, but the Bulldogs took a 45-37 lead thanks to a couple baskets from DeAundra Vines.

That lead would be LaFayette’s largest of the game as the Panthers closed out the quarter on  an 8-1 run which featured buckets from Jr. Bynum, Elijah Whitfield and Jarrious Goodman.

Lanett got all the momentum in the fourth quarter as Bynum hit a layup with 4:46 left in the game to give the Panthers a 49-48 lead, their first of the half.

The Bulldogs responded with a free throw from Vaderrian Story, but Whitfield took the lead back with his own basket.

Tamarion Harrington hit a basket with just under a minute left to close the Lanett lead to 53-51, and the Bulldogs capitalized on defense to get the ball back.

With 25 seconds left, Harrington traveled, and the Panthers extended the lead with a basket from Whitfield.

LaFayette missed a basket in the final seconds, and Bynum stormed all the way down the court and sealed the game with a dunk.

McCants told his team to keep fighting even when they were down.

“They were so mad that we didn’t host,” McCants said.

“I always tell them to find something to be mad about. Not being able to host the area tournament was big for them. Elijah Whitfield and Jr. Bynum stepped up. I have a freshman, Shamar Patterson, who did a great job on the defensive end.”

McCants feels like his team met expectations by winning the area.

“We always win the area,” McCants said.

“We want to keep it going. It feels good.”

As for the Bulldogs, they will look ahead as they have to travel to either Ranburne or Pleasant Valley on Tuesday.

“This isn’t the end of the road,” Lewis said.

“We’ve had the pleasure of playing Ranburne twice this year. We just have to get back in the gym and get ready. This game is over with. This is our last home game here at LHS, and it’s time to get ready for Tuesday.”

Lewis wishes his team could’ve won what might amount to the final home at LaFayette.

“It wasn’t that great because we didn’t win,” Lewis said.

“I thought we did well. We just played a team with so much experience. Just gaining experience is perfect for me. We have to be inside of us. You’re either built with it or you’re not.”

The Panthers will host either Ranburne or Pleasant Valley, and McCants is excited to return home.

“It’s big,” McCants said. “I know our girls have been rolling all year. Hats off to coach Charlie. We just wanted to play at home one more time. That gave us that energy and drive to close out the game.”

It’s extra sweet for the Panthers as they got to potentially end the rivalry with a win on LaFayette’s court.

“We can always say we ended on top,” McCants said. “We have to get some rest. We have to go back to the drawing board. We’re looking to make a statement with the subregional game. We want Panther Nation to come out and cheer and support us so we can have that drive going into regionals.”