Southside Panthers win title

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 27, 2005

TROY – One year ago, Velton Robinson nearly was told to hit the road.

This season, Robinson is doing just that, except this time he’s taking his team with him.

Robinson and his Southside High School Panthers punched their tickets for Birmingham and the AHSAA Class 4A Final Four with a 51-44 victory over the Central-Coosa Cougars in the Southeast Regional final Saturday morning at Troy State University.

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The Panthers (30-2) will play again Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in Birmingham. They will take on Greene County, which won the Class 4A Southwest Regional, 50-39 over Livingston on Saturday.

Southside withstood a furious second-half rally by Central-Coosa that saw the Cougars dwindle a 13-point halftime deficit to one with just over a minute left in the game.

But junior center Jeffery Anderson knocked down a key baseline jumper and senior forward Deonta Williams grabbed two rebounds in the final minute as the Panthers moved to within two victories of claiming the state title.

“Whatever God’s got for you, no one can take that away from you,” Robinson said. “I don’t really get caught up in all that other stuff. My main focus was getting these guys to the next level.”

It appeared earlier on that getting to Birmingham was going to be easier than first thought for the Panthers. After all, Southside’s last two seasons had been ended by Central-Coosa, which beat the Panthers in the Area 4 championship the last two seasons before moving to Area 5 this year.

Central-Coosa also beat Southside in last year’s regional quarterfinals and in the sub-regional tournament two years ago, with last season’s defeat nearly costing the Panthers’ coach his job.

This time, however, Robinson and the Panthers got the monkey off their backs with a fast start. Five different players each sank a three-pointer in the second quarter as Southside built a comfortable lead.

With the score tied at 12, Jermarcus Hardy hit his three from the left corner. The Cougars nudged the margin back to two when Travis Shine drained his three-pointer from nearly the same place as Hardy’s to make it 21-16.

Timothy Sanders and Robert Tyus, both of whom had seen spot action during the tournament, hit back-to-back three-pointers as Southside’s lead ballooned to 29-16. Willie Cooper sank a long three-pointer from three steps beyond the arc at the buzzer and Southside enjoyed a 32-19 lead at intermission.

The Panthers’ pressing man-to-man defense also did an effective job on Central-Coosa center Kelvin Kelley. Anderson and Williams teamed to keep the ball away from Kelley, allowing the Cougars’ big man just four points in the first half after Kelley had lit up Rehobeth for 33 points in just 27 minutes in Wednesday’s semifinal. Kelley finished with just nine points overall on Saturday.

While the Cougars’ center struggled for much of the day, Central-Coosa rallied in the second half on the heels of forwards Donald Smith and Ryan Williams. The duo gave Anderson and the Panthers with their shiftiness and quick moves off the dribble.

With Southside leading 33-21, Quintereal Kelley’s pass from the top of the key found Ryan Williams on the right baseline. Williams hit the running lay-up and drew a foul to start a three-point play that cut the difference to nine. Central-Coosa guard Nick Carter’s finger roll made it 37-32 with less than a minute to go in the third. The Cougars’ run also brought on Robinson’s ire.

“Coach told me I was playing lazy defense,” Anderson said. “He told me to step it up and give it more effort.

“It seemed like I couldn’t get anything right,” Anderson added. “I’m just tired. We’ve pressed a lot on defense the whole season.”

While the Cougars rallied, Southside struggled from the field. After hitting five of their six 3-pointers in the game during the second period, the Panthers were 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the second half.

But Sanders and Deonta Williams both hit short jumpers to push Southside’s lead back to nine, 41-32, going into the final period.

The Cougars, however, fought back to begin the fourth. Smith hit a three-pointer from the top of the key to make it 41-35. Moments later, Kelvin Kelley drained his only three-pointer of the day to cut the margin to 45-42.

After being fouled, Ryan Williams went to the foul line and made his first free throw to make it a two-point game. Williams missed his second charity shot, but got another chance when the Panthers were whistled for holding Coosa-Valley players during the foul shot. Williams missed his second chance, but Southside again was called for holding, giving him a third chance, which he finally made to dwindle Southside’s advantage to 45-44 with just under two minutes to go.

“The officials said we were grabbing Central’s players,” Robinson said. “I didn’t see it, but that’s how they explained it to me.”

The call proved meaningless seconds later when Shine’s bounce pass from the left wing found Anderson moving along the right baseline. Anderson grabbed the pass with his back to the defender, then backed in for the lay-up to make it 47-44.

Deonta Williams followed a missed Central-Coosa shot, leaping high for the rebound. He also grabbed another rebound and sank two free throws, and Shine added a driving lay-up to put the game away.