Gant, Rebels turn away Lee County in tourney opener
February 21, 2014
By Patrick Donahue
While the Effingham County Rebels continued to swat away shots at one end, they weren’t missing shots at the other.
Jakeenan Gant had 15 blocks as part of his triple-double, and the Rebels blocked 19 shots on the night, as Effingham County routed Lee County 88-61 Friday night in the first round of the Class AAAAA state boys basketball tournament.
Effingham will visit Warner Robins, which beat Whitewater, tonight in the second round. As a No. 2 seed, a result of losing to Jenkins in the Region 3-AAAAA championship game, the Rebels must hit the road for the next round.
“We failed to get one prize,” Rebels coach Donnie Arrington said. “But we’ve still got the bigger prize out there. We feel like we’re good enough to make a little run.”
Gant finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Tanner Reid was 5-of-6 from 3-point range for a game-high 19 points as the Rebels improved to 20-9 with the win. Effingham never trailed and was tied just once after scoring the game’s first points.
The Trojans challenged the 6-foot-8 Missouri signee repeatedly in the first half — mostly to no avail.
“He’s going to block a bunch of them if you keep doing that,” Arrington said.
Gant’s three-point play staked Effingham County to a 19-10 lead in the first quarter, and the Rebels used a 24-5 run in the second quarter to take command of the game. Deshaun Wilkenson started the furious barrage with a 3-pointer, and Ashton King had eight of his 10 points during the run.
Lee County started out with a press, and the Rebels, thanks to Gant’s deft ball-handling and passing, had only intermittent trouble with the Trojans’ defense.
“He’s such a great ball-handler and decision-maker,” Arrington said of Gant. “We’ve got a big who can put it on the deck and make plays for other people. They were pressing us and in some ways, that kind of helps us. I thought we moved the ball just great. They were trying to press us and the ball’s not touching the floor. We just moved the ball great. We played really hard and got off a tremendous start, and it snowballed from there. We’re starting to really pass the ball well.”
Reid, who had six of the Rebels’ 26 assists, also said the Rebels are starting to starting to move the basketball better and smarter.
“We were swinging the ball, looking for the extra guy,” he said. “We made the extra pass. They were pressuring us hard out on the perimeter, so that left us open underneath.”
After the Rebels pushed the lead to 11 points, 28-17, on Ashton King’s layup, thanks to a Deshaun Wilkenson feed, they never trailed by fewer than double digits the rest of the way. A 14-0 run, coming in less than two minutes, widened the lead to 50-22.
“We shot the ball great,” Arrington said. “Tanner shot the 3 well. Everything’s pretty good then. I didn’t really see that coming. I didn’t quite see us coming like that.”
Reid, who had three 3s in the second quarter, saved his most difficult for last, a 35-foot heave. Reid also buried a half-court shot just before halftime a week ago in the region championship game against Jenkins.
“I was a little confused about the time,” Reid admitted. “I thought there were 5 seconds left, not 11. I was kind of relieved.”
Reid’s 3 to open the second half stretched the lead to 58-25, and Gant hammered a give-and-go pass from Derek Hendrix for a dunk with 6:22 left in the third. Wilkenson knocked down a 3 on the next possession for a 65-31 lead, and Gant’s three-point play at the 1:46 stretched Effingham’s advantage to 72-37, its largest of the night.
A 74-40 lead at the end of the third quarter led to the six-minute mercy-rule in the fourth quarter.
Andre Brown had 12 points, and King added 10 as 12 of 13 Rebels who played scored.
Arrington admitted he was nervous before the game, with Kyle Owens still nursing an ankle injury and Mondre Green under the weather for most of the week.
“I was scared to death,” the veteran coach said. “I thought everybody in the top nine played well. I thought Ashton played well. I thought Derek Hendrix played really well defensively.”
Jalin Wimberly had 12 points for the Trojans, and J.J. Rivers scored 10.
Wilkenson had eight points and six assists for the Rebels while Green scored six, Anthony Jackson and Hunter Morris each had five points, Jaden Rodriguez had three, Hendrix and Jeremy Rawson each added two points and Rashad Griffin tallied one point.
The Rebels have surpassed last year’s loss total, but the rigorous schedule early in the season may pay off in the next week.
“We’ve lost some games,” Arrington said. “But we’ve had some really, really tough games. We’ve played really good people. You hope that’s going to allow you to continue to get better.”
Reid, the senior point guard, said the team is starting to figure out what it’s capabilities are.
“Early in the season, we didn’t know our identity,” he said. “Our chemistry is really building. We’re really motivated to keep going and win the next game. We think we can do it.”