Monday night, the Golden Eagles balled so hard during the final eight minutes of their 51-46 win against Alexandria it made up for all of their struggles during the first 24 minutes of action.
After scoring just 22 points through three quarters, Jacksonville outscored the Valley Cubs 29-10 in the fourth to erase a 13-point deficit and emerge victorious in the final of the AHSAA Class 4A, Area 10 tournament.
“When we play like that last three or four minutes of the fourth, that’s our capability for 32 minutes,” Kingston said. “That’s one of the thing we’ve been harping as a coaching staff all season long. You’ve got to play 32 minutes. You can’t play 28 or 26.”
Kingston’s team, nearly from top to bottom, responded to his call to step up when it seemed as if they might be on the business end of a blowout after three quarters.
Their frantic fourth was sparked by a full-court pressure defense that forced Alexandria to turn the ball over time and time again.
Jacksonville junior guard Des Curry scored eight of his game-high 16 in the fourth and senior Tyler Ross came up with a steal near midcourt with less than a minute to play.
However, an undersized underclassman might’ve made the largest impact on the game down the stretch for the Golden Eagles. Maxwell Thurmond, a 5-foot-2 freshman listed at 115 pounds, played the role of little big man providing clutch play on both ends of the court late in the game.
He gathered an offensive rebound, his only board of the game, absorbed some contact and laid the ball in the basketball to pull his team to within one with 52.6 seconds remaining and added the free-throw.
Then, Thurmond chased down Alexandria guard Justin Bowen and knocked the ball away from behind on the Valley Cubs’ ensuing possession. He was fouled on the other end and calmly sank a pair from the charity stripe to give his team the lead for good at 46-45.
“Coach told somebody to step up and I guess he rose up to the challenge,” Ross, said of Thurmond. “Maxwell Thurmond, he’s a great player. He’s just in the ninth-grade but we expect him to do things like that.”
Thurmond finished with five points and was a perfect 3-for-3 from the line. “It feels good,” Thurmond said. “I’m just excited.”
Jacksonville senior post player Walter Garrett was whistled for a technical foul when he flung off his jersey onto the court and headed for the locker room after a verbal exchange with Kingston on the Jacksonville sideline with 3:45 left. He did not return to action.
“It was a miscommunication between he and I,” Kingston said. “We’re going to try to work things out.”
Ross finished with 12 points go along with seven rebounds and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Jacksonville has won seven straight since losing 48-35 to top-seeded Anniston in the quarterfinals of the Calhoun County tournament.
The Golden Eagles (16-12) will host Munford in the sub-regional round Friday night for a spot in next week’s Northeast Regional tournament. Alexandria (14-15) will travel to Childersburg for its subregional matchup after Childersburg downed Munford 50-31 in the Area 9 tournament final. Alexandria was coming off a 55-50 upset of defending state runners-up Anniston, ranked No. 5 in the state, in the area tournament semifinals.
“You’ve got to forget about it,” Alexandria coach Jason Johnson said. “We had a good week. We’ve got to remember what allowed us to get to the playoffs. We’re going to play another team very much like Anniston in Childersburg. They’re very athletic, very big.”
Blake Jones led the Valley Cubs with 15 points. Jarline Lee and Tyler Burr each had nine in the loss.
“Coach Kingston just kept telling us to fight,” Ross said. “He said, man, he wouldn’t care if we won or lost as long as we gave it all we got. We just wanted to win for our seniors. Everybody just pulled together and fought for it.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.