Jefferson boys’ basketball coach Kevin Morris made it clear that he’s not satisfied. But that certainly didn’t keep him from celebrating.
“I’m happy,” Morris said exuberantly. “I’m not satisfied.”
That's because his team is chasing a title.
The Dragons (21-7) pulled off a 55-45 home win over Monroe-Albany Wednesday (Feb. 26) in the Class AAA quarterfinals to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2010. Jefferson will play Central-Macon (23-7) at Valdosta State Saturday at 8 p.m.
Jefferson’s players struck a similar tone as their coach after the program’s biggest win in a decade.
“It’s really satisfying,” said senior guard Daniel Parker, “but we’re not done. None of us are satisfied. We haven’t made it far enough yet. Our goal coming into the season was to win it all. We’ve still got that chance. I think we’ve got a good chance.”
“The feeling is amazing, going to the Final Four, but we’re not done yet,” senior center Jacob Radaker said. “So, just like coach said, we’ve got to keep it going, don’t get satisfied. Keep it going, and keep playing hard.”
Radaker finished with 20 points, Owen Parker added 14 points and Malaki Starks chipped in 10 points in the Dragons’ 12th-straight win.
The Dragons controlled the game from tip to finish in the 10-point win.
“I felt like we controlled it the whole game … we did a really good job of handling whatever little runs that they went on,” Morris said. “I felt like we were in control the whole time.”
Radaker had 11 points midway through the second quarter, helping Jefferson jump out to a 21-9 lead. Owen Parker followed with a traditional 3-point play, hitting a driving layup and sinking a free throw to increase the lead to 24-9.
Jefferson led 26-17 at the break.
The game only grew tight in the third quarter when Monroe-Albany whittled the lead down to 32-26 with 3:17 left in the period after a layup from Jordan Edward.
But Jefferson dominated the rest of the quarter with a string of baskets, mostly at the rim. Daniel Parker hit a floater, Owen Parker converted another traditional 3-point play, Kadin Bailey scored on a put back and Owen Parker hit another layup as the lead swelled to 41-26. Monroe-Albany never threatened again.
The Golden Tornadoes did trim the lead to single digits after a steal and layup from Dominik Henderson, making the score 47-39 with 2:33 left. But the Dragons quickly worked the lead back out with a pair of free throws from Radaker, a layup from Starks and a pair of free throws from Kam Robinson — who’s been dealing with a recent bout of the flu — putting Jefferson up 53-39.
“We were very unselfish tonight,” Radaker said. “Everyone was moving the ball. Nobody got too shot happy. We moved it very well. Kam coming in after being sick for like a month now, that was pretty rough for him, but he played amazing. That was awesome … Just being unselfish, moving the ball and playing hard on defense, especially, we were able to slow them down.”
Morris also praised the gustiness of Robinson, a 5-8 point guard who hadn't touched a basketball since Friday due to his illness.
“The things that he accomplished tonight, the effort he put forth tonight, that’s just freaking tough,” he said. “There’s a lot of people you can brag on, but how gusty and tough is that kid?”
The win was the result of a focused effort from a Dragon team well aware of the weight of the moment.
“This is one of the biggest games in Jefferson for basketball in the last 10 years I guess,” Daniel Parker said. “So, we were just focused. We’ve been waiting on this for our whole high school career.”
Morris sensed the intensity from his team, too.
“I walked into the locker room and normally, they’re up and talking, but tonight I walked in and nobody said a word,” he said. “It was really good to see the focus that they had.”
With the win, the Dragons will advance yet another round in the Class AAA state tournament after being ousted in the first-round of the bracket last year.
Jefferson carries the momentum of a dozen-game winning streak into the program’s biggest game in 10 years.
“(This is) the best we’ve ever been playing,” Daniel Parker said. “We’ve never been playing this good. I know I’ve never been playing this good. We’re really confident in how we’re playing.”
And Jefferson’s senior class — which started their careers on a four-win team as freshmen — has the chance to continue writing its legacy.
“Coming from four wins freshman year up to the Final Four, it’s really surreal to be able to do this,” Radaker said. “But we want a championship now.”