By Mark Clark
Bobby Wright stood near center court and wiped his brow and stared at the scoreboard for a moment. He then turned to reporters for questions. The first question asked was, “How to you feel right now?”
Wright smiled and responded, “Relieved.”
His Central High Red Devils had just beaten area rival Auburn High 71-53 for the Area 4 Tournament title and would advance to the Central Regional Tournament in Montgomery as the area’s No. 1 seed. Central, 19-4, was slated to play Jefferson Davis High of Montgomery at the Alabama State University Acadome this past Tuesday after Citizen press time. The winner of that game will play the winner of the R.E. Lee High-Auburn High game next Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. ET for a chance to play in the Final Four Tournament in Birmingham for a state title.
“I am relieved this one is over. Auburn is a very good team and well-coached. I was anxious to see how our team would respond against them after having lost to them here last week. We have built a tradition of winning at our place and I wanted to see if we would show some pride and come back tonight to beat them,” Wright said.
In order to get the victory over Auburn, Wright knew he had to stop the Tigers’ three-point shooting, especially the shooting of Christian Brandt.
“We had to cut the head of the snake off. (Christian) Brandt had like five three-point baskets in the first half against us last time we played them. I knew we had to stop him. We came out with a defense Auburn had not seen us play and it worked. We used a triangle and two defense,” Wright said.
“Our defense worked well. At the half, I told the kids to just play our game in the second half. I do not have a lot of basketball players on this team, but I have a lot of very good athletes. We run the floor and play good defense. We did not shoot a jump shot in the second half. We just worked the ball to get lay-ups and put-backs.”
With the game at 2-2, Brandt nailed a three-point shot to give his team a 5-2 lead. Trey Elston hit another three-point shot and Auburn led 8-2 with 3:48 remaining in the first quarter. That was the biggest lead the Tigers would have in the contest.
Central fought back to regain the lead it had taken with the game’s initial basket. After Donald Jackson hit a free-throw to make the score 8-3, Central senior Justyn Ross came off the bench and drove inside for a lay-up with 1:59 left in the quarter. That basket sparked the Red Devils’ rally. DeAnthony Miles cut the lead to 8-7 with another basket in the paint. Then Jackson drove inside for a basket with 42 seconds to play in the opening quarter to give Central a 9-8 lead. Auburn scored to lead 10-9 with 25 seconds showing – it would be the Tigers’ final led. Jackson drove in for a final basket as time expired to put Central ahead 11-10.
Auburn tied the game t 12-12 with a basket at the 6:02 mark of the second quarter, but Central regained the lead with a Miles basket a minute later. Central scored the next four points after that basket to taken 18-12 lead. Jackson’s basket on a lay-up with a second remaining in the half gave Central an eight point lead, 24-16, at the half.
Central outscored Auburn 20-7 over the first six minutes of the third quarter to build a 21-point lead at 44-23. Auburn cut the margin to 15 points before the quarter ended, but trailed 46-31.
While Auburn managed to score 22 points in the final eight minutes of the game, Central put in 25 more points to win 71-53.
Johnson scored 25 points to lead Central and earned the tournament’s MVP award. Miles had 19 points, Tremaine Porter scored 11 points and Ross added 10 points for Central. Miles and Porter joined Jackson on the all-tournament team.
Others on the all-tournament team were Smiths Station’s Stevie Pringle and Jaylin Madden and Auburn’s Preston Cook, Brandt and Elston.