Dogged defense has Commerce continuing on one of its deepest postseason runs in program history.
The Tigers (18-10) trekked to the northwest corner of the state and beat Armuchee 43-33 in the second round of the Class A-Public girls’ state basketball tournament to advance to the Elite Eight.
“We felt like defense was going to win this game tonight,” Commerce coach Brad Puckett said. “Our goal was to hold them to less than 50, but we did better than that. They’re a very disciplined outside shooting team, and they’re very quick and organized.
“We worked all week long defensively, letting that be our main focus more than anything else.”
This is the program’s first Elite Eight appearance since 2015 and first in a full, 32-team bracket since 2001. Commerce will host Turner County in the quarterfinals Wednesday (March 3) at 6 p.m.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet to tell you the truth …,” Puckett said of reaching the quarterfinals. “It means a ton because these kids, we don’t have one or two superstars, it’s just a group of hardworking kids who bought into early in the year playing a tough non-region schedule.
"We were 2-8 going into January, and they just never stopped believing. They just kept coming to practice, kept working hard, kept being determined to turn things around.”
Commerce, which has won 16 of its last 18 games, will now try to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 1989.
Carson Hobbs led the Tigers in Friday’s win with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Commerce — which fell behind 9-2 early — trailed Armuchee 15-9 after a quarter and 18-15 at the half. But the Tigers outscored the Indians 19-9 in the third quarter to take the lead, thanks in large part to Hobbs’ offensive efforts. Commerce was able to exploit Armuchee’s wide 1-2-2 zone by moving both of its post players inside.
“And we started feeding the ball to Carson Hobbs at the elbow, and she had a huge night,” Puckett said.
The coach added that Hobbs, “all over the boards, getting rebounds.”
Maggie Mullis added a double-double as well with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Bryanna Sanders, the team’s leading scorer, struggled offensively with just two points, but made up for that on the defensive end with deflections and steals.
“She was all over the place defensively,” Puckett said.
The coach noted the tough road environment Armuchee presented with its crowd and praised the crowd support his team received from Commerce fans who made the long road trip.
“We brought a decent little crowd from Tiger town,” Puckett said. “I can’t thank them enough.”
Puckett commended his team on a gritty win, too.
“I’m just extremely proud of the character that this team shows, and our goal tonight was the same as it’s been all year: try to win every play,” Puckett said. “I told them that if we win more plays that they do, we’re going to win the ball game.”