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Crouch, third-quarter surge lift Patriots past Lithonia 66-55

LILBURN — Needing a spark to ignite them, Berkmar’s boys turned to one expected source and another less expected to get it in their quarterfinal of the BMASP/Nike Holiday Hoops Classic against Lithonia.

Senior point guard Kiair Crouch posted game highs of 18 points, seven assists and five steals, while freshman Al Durham scored 16 points in his first varsity start as the Patriots ran past the Bulldogs 66-55 Friday at Berkmar.

Crouch, Durham and Jonathan Sanks combined for 13 points during a 17-0 run over the last 3:28 of the third quarter that proved decisive and helped Berkmar (8-4) advance to tonight’s 7:30 p.m. semifinal against Stephenson.

“As a point guard, you need to build your team up and get them going,” said Crouch, who also added five rebonds to his totals on the evening. “We’ve got a deep bench. Even though we had three of our starters out, we’ve got people who can fill in. That makes it easier on me. I know I can put them in a position to score.”

With regulars Tim Rowe, Joseph Gordon and James Sanders sat down by coach Gregory Phillips in the first half, the Patriots had trouble with pesky Lithonia (3-8), particularly on the boards. The Bulldogs held a 21-9 rebounding advantage in the first half.

Still, the Patriots led most of the half behind Crouch, Durham and Sanks and took a 26-21 lead into halftime.

But after Berkmar built the lead to seven early in the third quarter, Lithonia charged back with a run of 10 straight points behind guard Tyheem Freeman and forward Jaquan Jones.

When Rodney Chatman hit a layup in transition with 4:14 left in the period, the run was 13-2, which vaulted the Bulldogs into their first lead of the game at 34-30.

That’s when Crouch, Sanks and the Berkmar pressure defense began to get cranked up, which got the transition game going.

The results were either fastbreak baskets — like Crouch’s steal and layup — fastbreak opportunities that wound up in free throws — with Durham hitting 3 of 4 from the line and Sanks adding two more free throws — or open 3-point looks — which Crouch and Sanks each buried.

When the quarter finally came to an end, the Patriots had scored 17 straight points over a 3:28 span to surge back into the lead at 47-34.

When Durham finished off a lob from Crouch 2:23 into the fourth quarter, the run had reached 23-2, and Berkmar had its biggest lead of the game at 53-36 with 5:27 to play.

“It started on the defensive side,” said Crouch of his team’s effort, which forced Lithonia into 18 turnovers on the night. “And whenever we had to have points, we moved. We just kept the ball moving and hit the open guy.”

The Patriots also improved on the glass, cutting the rebounding deficit to just 31-30 by the end of the game, led by six from Rowe off the bench (to go along with eight points), plus five each from Crouch and Josh Culver.

Still, Gregory wasn’t happy with some late-game sloppiness that Lithonia took advantage of to close the final margin to just 11 points.

“(Crouch) played good the whole game,” Phillips said. “We built a lead, … but we don’t finish teams off. That’s a very dangerous thing to do, especially in a tournament. I’m disappointed the way we finished. We’re just not finishing games right, and we can’t do that. Great teams don’t do that.”

Sanks was the third member of Berkmar’s big triumvirate of the night with 16 points and three steals, while Culver chipped in eight points.

Jones led Lithonia with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Freeman had 12 points and dished out three assists.

St. Francis 70,

Shiloh 64

The Generals (5-4) came up short after battling Class A powerhouse St. Francis (7-2) most of the game.

Facing its biggest deficit of the day at 54-47 heading into the fourth quarter, Shiloh turned up its defensive pressure in the fourth quarter by forcing nine St. Francis turnovers.

Two baskets by Emir Basic — one a 3-pointer — highlighted an 8-1 run that pulled the Generals even at 55-apiece with 4:23 to play.

They trailed just 62-61 after Elliott Strickland floater in the lane with 2:08 left.

However, Kobi Jordan-Simmons, who scored a game-high 19 points, answered with a left-wing drive and pull-up jumper with 1:44 left, and Kaiser Gates, who finished with 13 points, added a layup with 23 seconds remaining to give St. Francis a little breathing room at 66-61.

The Knights then hit four straight free throws in the final 10.2 seconds — two from McKinley Brown and two more from Jordan-Simmons — to put the game away.

“The ball bounced their way a little (more) at the end, and we’re still a work in progress,” Shiloh coach Kim Rivers said. “But I like my team. We had to deal with their length, and they had to deal with our traps. It was a battle of those two. … They were able to make some better decisions than we did at the end of the game. I take my hat off to them. They’re a great team.”

In addition to Jordan-Simmons and Gates, St. Francis, which will play Morgan County in a semifinal game today at 5:30 p.m. got a double-double from Malik Beasley, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Shiloh placed four players in double figures, with Kareem Brewton leading the way with 16 points. Jordan Chance added a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Joshua Okogie chipped in 15 points and four assists and Basic finished with 12 points.

Strickland also dished out a team-high five assists for the Generals, who will meet Lanier of Montgomery, Ala., in a consolation bracket game today at 11 a.m.

Pebblebrook 83,

South Gwinnett 74

The Comets (4-9) led 38-31 at the half, but the Falcons (8-2) outscored them 27-11 in the third quarter to take control and advance into Monday’s fifth-place game against Laney.

Thrae Mitchell led five players in double figures for Pebblebrook with 19 points, while Ty Hudson had 17 points, Preston Wilson had 15 and Kevin Murph and Chris Nelson finished with 11 points apiece.

Aaron Udell led South with 18 points, while Robert Gallinat added 16, K.V. Walker scored 15 and Josh McKeever chipped in 10.