The Long County Blue Tide boys’ basketball team is back in the Sweet Sixteen of the state playoffs for the second straight year after defeating the Hephzibah Rebels in the first round on Tuesday, February 23. It took a late rally for the Tide to pull off the win, but they took home the 54-51 win.
The game was back and forth and fans in Ludowici never saw the game get out of hand. Senior Josh Valenbrum hit a big three point shot in the opening seconds of the game as the Tide led 5-4 early on.
However, the fast-paced offense of the visiting Rebels seemed to stun the Tide in the first quarter as they worked a 7-0 run into the final two minutes of the quarter to go up 11-5.
Sophomore Jamel Brimlett has slowly become a key piece of the Blue Tide in the final quarter of the season and he connected on a big And-1 layup to make the score 11-10 with 20 seconds left in the first quarter. The Rebels led 13-10 going into the second period.
The Tide and Rebels both looked for outside shots for the majority of the first half, but the teams only combined for four made shots from beyond the arc, two by each team. Because of this, the Tide knew they would have to penetrate and they did just that as junior Cameryn Johnson scored seven points and pulled down six rebounds in the second quarter alone.
This led to the Tide and Rebels being knotted up at 24 going into halftime.
After hitting a three-point shot early in the game, Valenbrum did not score again in the first half. He took over in the second half, scoring eight points in the third quarter as the Tide and Rebels were locked in a war.
Leading 37-36, the Rebels got a big And 1 layup to make the score 40-36 with just a minute left in the third. The Tide were able to get two more buckets in the closing seconds to tie the game at 40, but Hephzibah still had the momentum.
The Rebels jumped out a 49-43 lead in the fourth quarter and held the six point lead with just three minutes left to go in the game. The Tide did not say quit however as they held the Rebels to just two points in the final three minutes of the game.
Long County went on an 11-2 run to close out the game and they made some big plays along the way. However, there was no play bigger than Brimlett’s gutsy three point shot with less than a minute left to give the Tide a 52-51 lead.
Valenbrum capped off his team-high 19 points with a basket with 12 seconds left to make the score 54-51 and the Rebels could not hit a three as the Tide moved on to the victory and the second round of the AAA state playoffs.
Johnson also had a big night despite not scoring as much as he is used to. He finished with a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
The Tide now await their second round opponent and location. Barring a huge first round upset, the Tide will likely travel to Savannah later this week to face off against Region 3-AAA champion Johnson in a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight game, which the Tide lost heartbreakingly 49-48. The Tide could still host the Sweet Sixteen if Crisp County pulls off the upset over the Atomsmashers in the first round.