Since a 70-54 loss to Alexander on Jan. 29, the Grangers haven’t lost, and they’ll carry a seven-game winning streak into today’s Class AAAA state-tournament opener against Madison County.
LaGrange (21-6) is the number one seed from Region 5-AAAA after beating Fayette County 53-49 in the region-championship game, while Madison County (7-17) is the number four seed from Region 8-AAAA.
The Red Raiders have had a difficult season, but they upset Lanier in the quarterfinals of the region tournament to punch their ticket to state.
The Grangers were struggling a bit midway through the season, and things hit a low point when they managed just 39 points in back-to-back losses to Carrollton and Shaw.
“We had a stretch there where we couldn’t flow into an offense,” said Justyn Olson, a senior guard for the Grangers. “The coaching staff did great getting us on the right track.”
The Grangers bounced back from the Carrollton and Shaw losses to score 82 points against Columbus, and then after a loss at Alexander, they were off and rolling.
Senior Kwame Brown said as the season has gone along that players stopped worrying about stats and focused on what it took to win games.
“In the beginning of the season, in some ways we were kind of looking for our own shot,” Brown said. “But once we got into being a team, and setting each other up, and stopped worrying about self, then the wins started coming.”
The Grangers have several different players, on the perimeter and in the paint, who are capable of leading the team in scoring.
Against Fayette County in the region-title game, Brown led the team with 12 points, fellow guard Baron Smith added 10 points, and post players Don Leak and Demarcus Turnbough were next with nine and eight points, respectively.
Olson, Rudra Kissun, Joe Sanders, Dee Smith and Drew Moody have also had big offensive games this season.
Olson, who played Saturday with a broken right hand (he’s left-handed), said LaGrange is so dangerous right now because everyone has bought into their role.
“When we get in the flow of things together, a lot of players really fit into where they’re supposed to be,” Olson said.
LaGrange head coach Mike Pauley, who led the Grangers to the state-championship game in 2010, said everyone on the team is unselfish, and that includes the players who rarely get into the game.
“We have several kids that sit the bench and don’t see the floor, and we have not heard one complaint from those kids,” Pauley said.
It also helps to have a senior-dominated team.
Of the nine players who see most of the time on the court, all of them are seniors.
Pauley said after the struggles in January that those seniors committed themselves to doing whatever was necessary to turn things around, and the Grangers in turn haven’t lost a game this month.
“The next thing you know our team work really gets good, and people were worried less about themselves and more about the team,” Pauley said. “Things got easier. The next thing you know we’re fighting in every game, and we’re on a run.”
If LaGrange wins today, it would likely face a second-round test against Columbia on Saturday.
Columbia (22-3), after finishing second in the Region 6-AAAA tournament to South Atlanta, will host Gilmer County today.
Columbia is going for a fourth straight state championship, a run that began with a 54-46 victory over LaGrange in the 2010 championship game.