CLAXTON — The Claxton Tigers entered Saturday night as the No. 2 team in the Class A power poll and a solid favorite over struggling Southeast Bulloch.
The Yellow Jackets of SEB weren’t impressed. The Jackets turned in their best shooting performance of the season, knocking down 10 3-pointers and hitting plenty of clutch shots down the stretch en route to an 82-72 victory.
While the non-region win won’t get the Jackets (7-12), it did provide a shot in the arm heading into the final weeks of the regular season.
“I have to give all of the credit to our guys,” SEB coach John Page said. “We had a meeting last night and the players told us that everyone had been working hard at practice and that more guys should see more playing time.
“They got that opportunity tonight and I thought that we played a very good game with everyone contributing.”
The new strategy showed as nine Yellow Jackets scored — five of them notching at least eight points.
Sheldon Hendrix led the way with 22 points, hitting four 3’s and connecting on all four of his fourth quarter free throws to help seal the win.
Lamont Ballard was right on Hendrix’s heels with 19 points and Malick Puckett (12 points) hit a pair of 3’s in the second half to throw water on the Tigers’ (12-4) comeback attempt.
The Jackets sent a strong message early on, scoring the game’s first eight points and holding a 19-7 lead after the first quarter. SEB’s largest lead came midway through the second quarter as it claimed a 32-16 advantage.
Cornelius Taylor got Claxton back on track in the second quarter and got the Tigers to within a manageable 38-31 deficit at halftime, but even his 22 points weren’t enough to compete with the hot hands that were all over the floor for SEB.
Tahje Boyd’s short jumper with 4:53 to go in the third quarter brought Claxton within 59-56 — the closest it ever got to the Jackets.
“We knew that it wasn’t going to be over until the last seconds ran out,” Page said. “(Taylor) seemed like he scored 50 points and kept hitting big shots, but we hung tough. Claxton got the best of us at our place, so it was nice to return the favor.”
When SEB’s long range game cooled off just a bit in the second half, forward Joseph Anderson was there to pick up the slack. Anderson pulled down nine rebounds and scored six of his eight points — all in the paint — in the third quarter to keep his team in front.
Even when Claxton’s shooting heated up in the closing minutes, the Jackets were able to go blow for blow to close out the game.
A final 3 from Taylor drew the Tigers within 72-67 with just under a minute to play, but SEB connected on 10 of its 14 fourth quarter free throws to keep Claxton at arm’s length.
Lady Tigers 62, Lady Jackets 24
One night after a thrilling comeback win over Savannah Country Day, the Claxton girls were hoping to avoid a letdown.
The Lady Tigers struggled through their first quarter against Southeast Bulloch, but kept their foot on the gas the rest of the way in cruising to a 62-24 victory.
“It’s tough to be up and to be at your best night in and night out,” Claxton coach Laura Aziz said. “We were pressing a little bit early on, but I was glad to see us settle down as the game went on.
“I think it helps that it isn’t just region games that we need to worry about. We go into every game knowing that it’s important.”
Saturday night will live on as an important one for junior forward Ikeria Brown. In addition to leading all scorers with 28 points, Brown reached the 1,000-point milestone for her career.
She joins fellow Tiger Jazmine Price in the 1,000-point club, marking the first time Claxton has ever had two active players at the mark.
No Yellow Jackets were able to crack double-digits. Destiny Burke led SEB with nine points and was one of just five Jackets to record points.
Both schools return to region action Tuesday. Claxton travels to Jenkins County while Southeast Bulloch hosts Johnson of Savannah.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.