Early surge paces Lions past Eagles

Photo by Christine Troyke

Photo by Christine Troyke

SUWANEE -- A good start doesn't always guarantee a good result in basketball.

However, getting out of the gate strong in both halves proved decisive for the Peachtree Ridge boys in Friday night's Region 7-AAAAA game with Collins Hill.

C.J. Blackwell helped lead the way in the first half and Corey Heyward scored some key baskets in the second as the Lions rolled out to big early advantages before holding off later Eagles challenges for a 77-66 home victory.

"Our starters don't always get off to a good start, but (Friday) night, they did in both halves," Peachtree Ridge coach Keith Arrington said after his team improved to 8-1 overall and 6-0 in region play. "Of course, that's big when you can get off to a good start with your starters, and then you come (off the bench) with another group and keep the pressure on."

It was a game filled plenty of emotion and physical play.

The two teams were whistled for a combined 43 fouls, including five technicals, plus the ejection of Collins Hill star guard Saah Nimley and Peachtree Ridge guard Xavier Johnson in an altercation near the end of the third quarter.

"It was a physical game," Collins Hill coach Josh Grayson said. "I didn't think our physical play translated into baskets.

"And we were 12 of 24 from the (free-throw) line. We talked about that being a key, and we were ineffective all night from the line. ... They (Peachtree Ridge) were just better than us (Friday) night."

That was especially true in the early going.

A 3-pointer from the top of the key by Blackwell -- of four for the 6-foot-5 junior on the night, all in the first half -- broke a 6-6 tie just 2:37 after the opening tip.

It also ignited a 19-4 run -- with seven points from Blackwell -- that helped the Lions build as much as a 25-10 lead after Matt Beatty's stickback with 1:10 left in the first quarter.

But Collins Hill (7-3, 4-2) slowly began to creep back into the game behind Nimley.

With the Eagles trailing 25-14 after the first quarter, the 5-8 junior scored 12 of his game-high 27 points and dished out two of his four assists in the second.

And when Nimley completed a transition layup with 37 seconds left in the half, it ended a 13-5 run that pulled Collins Hill to within 39-35.

But that's when Heyward began to assert himself.

The 6-0 junior drove down the right wing with time running out in the half and put back his own missed short as the buzzer sounded to push Peachtree Ridge's lead to 41-35 heading into intermission.

Heyward then completed a coast-to-coast layup 26 seconds into the second half to extend the lead further and help the Lions reestablish momentum.

"I think Heyward probably played his best game (of the season so far)," Arrington said of Heyward, who finished with 14 points, five assists and four rebounds. "We came out (in the second half) and everybody sort of contributed."

Indeed, Blackwell, Jordan Grant and Daryan Griffin all contributed in a 10-0 run to start the third quarter.

By the time Collins Hill finally got on the board on J.C. Benny's layup with 3:24 left in the period, Peachtree Ridge's lead was back into double digits, and the Eagles never closed any closer than eight the rest of the way.

The altercation that led to the ejection of Nimley and Johnson occurred with 3.6 seconds left in the quarter and started when Nimley, who had several verbal exchanges with Peachtree Ridge guards throughout the game, was shoved to the ground by Johnson.

However, no punch appeared to be thrown and order was quickly restored.

Nimley also had three steals before leaving the game. Herdie Lawrence was the only other Collins Hill player in double figure with 12.

Blackwell and Heyward were joined in double figures by Beatty, who had 11 points and six rebounds, and Grant, who finished with 10 points and five boards before fouling out.