As the fourth quarter began during Saturday’s state-tournament game between LaGrange High and Columbia, the Grangers were staring at a 14-point deficit, and that was fairly daunting considering they were facing a team that hadn’t lost a state game since 2009.
Spurred on by a passionate home crowd, though, the Grangers needed less than three minutes to get within six, and they had the ball with a chance to get even closer.
But the Eagles, showing the skill and poise that has helped them win three straight state titles and four of the past five, weren’t phased.
With sensational senior point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen leading the way, the Eagles shrugged off LaGrange’s fourth-quarter run to claim a 74-62 victory.
Columbia advances to the Class AAAA quarterfinals, while a fantastic season came to a close for the Grangers, who finished with a 22-7 record.
LaGrange, which won the Region 5-AAAA championship, had won eight straight games before succumbing to Columbia.
“It was a great effort. It was a fantastic effort,” LaGrange head coach Mike Pauley said.
It wasn’t quite enough, though, not against a team that has now won 17 consecutive games in the state tournament.
The difference maker was Shamsid-Deen, who scored 30 points and did a brilliant job running the Eagles’ offense.
“I think if we play them 10 times, we may win a couple,” Pauley said. “I think the best team may have won. They were a little better than us. But one game, we could have taken it. I liked our chances of winning tonight.”
That feeling gained a lot of traction in the fourth quarter.
The Grangers headed into the final period trailing 53-39, but they outscored the Eagles 12-4 to make it a six-point game with 5:17 left to play.
The Grangers were still down by 12 when Justyn Olson came up with a steal, and he made a layup and then made a free throw to complete a three-point play, and the Grangers were within nine.
Moments later, Demarcus Turnbough converted a three-point play of his own after scoring and knocking down a free throw, and Columbia’s lead was 57-51 with more than five minutes remaining, and the gym was rocking.
“That was unbelievable. We had a great crowd,” Pauley said.
With the decibel level continuing to rise, the Grangers got the ball back and had a chance to eat into the lead even more, but they were unable to convert.
The Eagles then went on a 7-0, capped by a steal and layup by Shamsid-Deen, and the Grangers found themselves down by 13 with 2:30 remaining.
The lead was at least double digits the rest of the way.
Olson finished with 13 points, with nine of those points coming in the fourth period.
Post player Joe Sanders added 13 points, with nine of his points coming in the third quarter, and Kwame Brown had 13 points as well.
The Grangers got off to a slow start.
The Eagles were up 10-2 less than four minutes into the game, and they led 19-9 after the first period.
The Grangers got as close as eight in the second period, but the Eagles surged to a 38-22 lead at the half.
The teams played mostly on even terms in the third period, with Columbia holding a 14-point lead as the fourth quarter began.
Pauley felt the offensive execution wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be for much of the game.
“We weren’t patient enough. That was my only complaint about the game, really,” Pauley said. “We were trying to do too much without passing the ball. That’s why we won all of these games in a row.”
The fourth quarter was the Grangers’ best as they put up 23 points, but the deficit was too great.