The Trojan train kept right on rolling Saturday as the John Milledge Academy boys basketball team defeated region opponent Westminster 61-34.
The win advanced the Trojans to 19-0 overall this season with a 6-0 mark in region play. Some male JMA student-athletes have yet to take a loss in a team sport this academic year after the school’s football team polished off a perfect 11-0 campaign with a state championship back in December. Four out of the five hoops starters were part of that effort and have kept the winning ways rolling out on the basketball court with only one week remaining in the regular season.
“The two main things I’ve gotten from the guys are energy and effort,” JMA head coach David Gallagher said on what has gotten his team to this point. “You could feel the difference in the second quarter when our energy and effort levels rose. That’s been the key to our team and our success.”
The second and third quarters are what really propelled the Trojans to victory Saturday. The visiting Wildcats of Augusta came out the gate with a concerted effort to make the contest a marathon and not a sprint like the John Milledge boys want. That earned Westminster a 9-5 scoreboard advantage after the first quarter and a 13-5 lead a couple of minutes into the second. The lead nor the style of play would hold up as the Trojans eventually imposed their will.
“As expected at this point, teams in our region are going to come out and try to slow us down to make us play in the half-court,” said Gallagher. “We’ve just got to be consistent in how we respond to that. We were able to establish our tempo after the first quarter and keep it going the rest of the game.”
After starting out a bit too trigger-happy for the head coach’s liking, the Trojans began hitting their stride around the 6:15 mark of the second period. Sophomore Banks Eady collected an offensive rebound and put it back to bring his team to within six, and later found senior post player Patrick McDonel for an easy two down low. A quick 6-0 run by the home team caused Westminster to call timeout, but that did nothing to stem the tide. JMA leading scorer Marcus Prestwood hit McDonel on a sweet around the back pass in transition that enabled the senior to tie the game up at 13-13 midway through the second. Following another tie at 14-14, the Trojans ended up the half on a 7-2 flurry to take a five-point lead into halftime.
The fun only just began in the second as the third quarter is where the JMA boys really shined. Helped along by a trio of Briggs Eady three-pointers, the Trojans won the penultimate frame 29-8 to take a very commanding lead over their region counterparts.
McDonel made a living getting open near the basket Saturday as he finished the game with 12 points. His senior classmate Will Rutland had 14 while Briggs Eady’s hot second-half shooting pushed him to a 14-point performance as well.
Gallagher’s team has played in a couple of one-possession games this season, but the rest have largely been blowouts like the one Saturday. The seventh-year head coach does not believe the success is going to his players’ heads.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “We don’t really talk much about the outcome or big picture of the season. Right now we’re taking it day by day to try and be the best version of ourselves and stick to our identity.”
The big picture right now is that the 2020-21 Trojans are ranked No. 1 in the GISA AAA classification by MaxPreps. Those rankings, not the region tournament as has been tradition, will determine seeding for the state playoffs that are set to begin later this month. Creekside Christian Academy of McDonough holds the second slot with a 24-2 record. If those rankings hold and both teams advance through the postseason, JMA would not see Creekside until the state championship game slated for March 6 at Georgia Southwestern.
A lot of work and nearly a full month lies between now and that possible collision. The Trojans have three games this week to close out the regular season before hosting the Region 4-AAA tournament next week. They will be at home against Westfield Tuesday, at Gatewood Thursday, and back home versus Bethlehem Christian Friday.