The cheer that erupted from the Luverne faithful in Alabama State’s Dunn-Oliver Acadome told the story.
Luverne celebrated Tuesday night’s Central Regional victory over R.C. Hatch as if they had won a championship. And while that can’t be accomplished until Friday’s 2 p.m. matchup with Aliceville (20-5) in the regional final, Tuesday’s 79-68 win was a milestone in itself.
It marked the first time Luverne had won a regional game since 2006. Last year’s team that showed so much promise before losing to Montgomery Academy in the South Regional returned with a vengeance in 2013.
“We feel like when we play like we’re capable, we’re just as good as anybody in the state,” Luverne coach Richard Dorsey said. “We play tougher teams in higher classifications. I’m not taking anything from (Hatch) because they’re a good school with a good tradition, but when we play like we can, we can play with anybody in the state.”
The Tigers showed they’re a championship contender with an offense that scored both in transition and in halfcourt attacks, hitting 53 percent of their shots from the field.
They showed it on defense, turning the game late in the third quarter with a stretch that held the Bobcats in check while the Tiger offense continued to click.
And the play of guards Jamarcus June and Preston Sankey was complimented nicely by 6-foot-8 sophomore center Donta’ Hall, who scored 21 points, pulled down 17 rebounds and blocked five shots.
“He grew up a lot tonight,” Dorsey said. “He didn’t play like a 15-year-old first timer. I can’t say enough about him.”
If June was the catalyst in the third-quarter run, Hall was the exclamation point, dominating the glass on both ends of the floor and being the go-to cog in the middle of the offense whenever the Tigers were forced to pull back and set up their halfcourt offense.
“Donta’ just had a very explosive game tonight,” June said. “He stepped up in a huge way. We expect that out of him.”
A five-point Luverne lead midway through the quarter suddenly turned into a double-digit lead as the Tigers continued to pull away in the first part of the fourth quarter.
“We went hard the whole game and didn’t give up, no matter whether we were down or up,” Hall said. “We played hard. We played together, worked together, ran hard, went hard. It feels good.”
“We didn’t want it to come down to a free-throw shooting contest, we didn’t want the ref to make a call that might change it, we wanted no doubt,” Dorsey said.
DeAnthony Rutledge added 18 points for Luverne (22-9), followed by June with 14 and Sankey with 13. The Tigers hope to make history again Friday with their first region title.
“Coming back, we knew we would have the same team so we basically dedicated ourselves this summer to work hard,” June said. “We plan on going farther from here.”
Jesse Golsby led R.C. Hatch (18-9) with 19 points, followed by Brandon Jones with 15 and Bakauri Jackson with 12.