CHATSWORTH, Ga. - There was more than a state playoff basketball game on the line Saturday night at Kenneth Ross Gymnasium for the Murray County Indians.
Despite their 24-2 record coming in and their No. 3 Class AAA state ranking, few prognosticators have figured the Indians in any talk of title contenders. But led by senior Taylor Patterson's 32 points, Murray defeated Booker T. Washington of Atlanta 89-77 and earned a little respect.
"They were a real quality opponent, and tonight we proved we could handle the big boys," said the 6-foot-5 Patterson, who dominated the inside with 17 rebounds. "We're a pretty confident bunch anyway, but this win does a lot for us. It proves to everyone we can play with these guys."
Murray will host Troup County in the second round Wednesday.
The Bulldogs (17-10) featured a frontline of 6-7 Walter Foster and 6-6 Joshua Jackson, but neither could handle Patterson, who scored 12 first-period points as Murray built a 20-15 lead. Back-to-back Patterson baskets, including Murray's only 3-pointer of the game, pushed the lead to 31-20 midway through the second period, but Washington started finding its range just in time.
The Bulldogs hit four 3-pointers in the final 2:45 of the half, including Rod Bailey's 25-footer at the buzzer, to cut the margin to 39-37. That led Murray coach Greg Linder to remind his team at halftime of the game plan.
"I'm very pleased with the way we responded," he said. "We got a little out of control at the end of the first half and let them play their game, which was getting up and down the floor, going hard and kicking out for 3s. We knew we would get some opportunities ourselves because of their pressure, but we wanted to go ahead and execute our offense, because every time we got in a set we felt we were going to be successful."
The Bulldogs tied the game with the second half's first basket, but the Indians started taking the ball inside with authority. Their first four baskets of the half came in the lane, and three of them resulted in three-point plays and a 52-44 lead.
Again, though, Washington went deep, hitting back-to-back treys to end the quarter and cut the Murray lead to five. The margin remained six to eight for six minutes of the final period. A Charles McDonald drive cut the lead to six with 2:18 to play, with Washington coach William Faulkner calling time out.
That was when Linder saw a chance to put the game on ice.
"We had a play we had drawn up where we can hit an outlet and get a runout due to their switching," he said. "I thought that was key. It took the wind out of their sails, so to speak. We had a couple more runouts right after that to push the lead back up to 10."
On the inbounds, Patterson broke off a back pick, took a long pass and made a layup. Chase Jones, who added 20 points, then had back-to-back layups off long rebounds to ice the team's biggest win since earning a first-round playoff win in 2006.
Zach England added 13 points for the Indians, while Thomas Jones topped Washington with 16. Bailey, McDonald and Renard Battle each added 13.
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.