February 28, 2009

Devils do it again

Great Falls basketball coach John Smith is one of those no-nonsense guys when it's time to talk about the game.

GREENVILLE -- Great Falls basketball coach John Smith is one of those no-nonsense guys when it's time to talk about the game.

So when he broke down Saturday's Class A Upper State championship game Thursday, Smith painted a masterpiece.

He said there would be several keys, most importantly stopping Landrum's big three of Alex Wilson, DeShaun Hall and Jacob Hatchette. Second, Smith said, his Red Devils had to set the pace with a good defensive effort to stop the Cardinals from scoring their 79-point average.

Final score: Great Falls 56, Landrum 41. The Red Devils, 26-1, are headed to Columbia next Saturday to play for the state championship for the 17th time in Smith's 40 years at the school. The opponent will be the winner of Saturday night's Calhoun County/Hemingway game for the Lower State championship.

Great Falls held Landrum's big three to a combined 20 points, but only Hatchette scored in the opening half on a pair of free throws. And 12 of the points came in the final quarter after the outcome had been decided.

As for the other key Smith mentioned, the final score tells all you need to know.

"They are scoring 79 points a game and us 62," Smith said. "If we had let them score 79 today, we would have been in a lot of trouble. You hold a team like them to 41 points and you know your defense has done what it needs to do for you to win the game."

The key, Smith said, was one of Great Falls' signature runs in the third quarter. The Cardinals had just pulled ahead 25-24 on Wilson's first field goal.

The Red Devils responded with a 12-2 run to lead 36-27 at the end of the period. The shot Smith felt was the biggest came at the end of the quarter, a turnaround jumper by Josh Lynn from the baseline.

Great Falls parlayed the run into the first five points of the final period -- a follow and a 3-pointer by Red Devils all-state forward Torrey Craig. His basket pushed the lead to 41-27 and was the beginning of an outstanding finish by the 6-foot-3 senior.

"We had a one-point lead in the third quarter and Great Falls turned up its defensive pressure," Landrum coach Lyn Smith said. "Great Falls was patient on offense and once they made a few outside baskets, it was hard for us to fall back against them."

This was Great Falls' game to win, not to lose. The Red Devils outrebounded the Cardinals 38-18 and had second-chance shots all afternoon.

Then there was the John Smith factor. With all the shuffling being done by the Chester County School District, including terminating working retirees, Smith's future is in question. It doesn't seem to matter that he's won more games than any boys basketball coach in state history, 816, and that he is the face of Great Falls High School.

"We wanted to win this for Coach Smith, then one more next week," said Walter Lamar, a 5-6 junior guard. "I'm one of the second five that Coach Smith puts in at the same time, and it doesn't bother me a bit because we've done it 17 straight games.

"Coach Smith has confidence in us. When he puts us in, he says if we press hard and play good defense, the offense will come. It usually does."

It did for Lamar at the first crucial point in the game. Neither team was shooting well in the first quarter. Great Falls led 7-6 and Smith sent his second five to the scorers table to check in.

Lamar promptly nailed a 3-pointer from just left of the key and was knocked down while in the air by Landrum's Dustin Morris. Lamar got up, hit the free throw and the Red Devils took an 11-6 lead.

Craig took over in the fourth quarter, assuring the Cardinals wouldn't pull a last-ditch run out of their bag. He scored 14 of his game-high 24 points and continued sweeping the boards on both ends.

"I'm feeling pretty satisfied about this win right now," Craig said. "This was the big one, win this game and we go to the state. My job was to help contain (Wilson) and we did a great job on him.

"Every step in the playoffs has been for coach Smith. We want to win the championship. This one is for him."

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