Photo by Derrick Mahone
Eagle's Landing juniors Desmond Ringer (left) and Isaiah Dennis will led the Golden Eagles into a Class AAA semifinals game against defending state champion Columbia on Friday.
When Eagle’s Landing entered perennial DeKalb County power Columbia’s holiday tournament this past December, there was no hidden agenda.
The Golden Eagles had lost, 72-47, to Columbia in the Class AAA semifinals last season, a humble reminder of the separation in experience between a team making its first semifinals appearance in school history and a team making its ninth. It wasn’t guaranteed the teams would meet, but a mid-season match-up with Columbia would provide a barometer to see whether the gap still existed, and how great it was.
Eagle’s Landing got its meeting with Columbia — a tight 44-37 loss in the tournament championship — and in the process got the confidence boost it needed going into today’s Class AAA rematch with Columbia at 8:30 p.m., at the Macon Coliseum.
Eagle’s Landing vs. Columbia
When, where: Today, 8:30 p.m., at the Macon Coliseum.
Records, rankings, seeding: Eagle’s Landing is 28-3, ranked No. 6 in Class AAA and the No. 2 seed from Region 4; Columbia is 29-1, ranked No. 1 and the top seed from Region 5.
How they got here: Eagle’s Landing defeated Thomson (58-54), Central-Macon (67-65) and Crisp County (68-66); Columbia defeated Shaw (84-67), Dalton (71-54) and Carrollton (51-30).
What to look for: With Eagle’s Landing junior Eric Wortham Jr. still out after suffering a seizure last Friday, the Golden Eagles need another performance from 6-foot-8 sophomore Jordan Sessions like he had against Crisp County, when he scored a team-high 15 points.
“I think our fear of Columbia is gone,” Eagle’s Landing coach Clay Crump said. “And I think the fear of being in the Final Four is gone.”
“I think we learned that we can play with them,” junior center Desmond Ringer said.
Leading up to their mid-season meeting, Eagle’s Landing faced a whirlwind path to the tournament championship — four games in four days against the likes of two ranked teams (Buford and Southwest DeKalb) and a tough out-of-state opponent in Wenonah of Alabama.
Columbia was its fifth opponent in five days, and the Golden Eagles came out sluggish.
“We played really, really good defense,” Crump said. “We limited their two best guards to 13 points combined. We just could not score in the first quarter. When we got to the end of the tournament, we just could not hit a shot to save our lives.”
But the outcome paid dividends. Eagle’s Landing discovered that despite its fatigue, it could remain competitive with one of the state’s premier high school basketball programs.
Suddenly, that 72-47 loss seemed light years in the past.
“I think last year we were scared,” Ringer said. “Coach Crump had us prepared with the Xs and Os, but it was just heart. We were just scared to play them. That last game we played them we weren’t scared, and we had a chance to beat them.”
Indeed, in a seven-point loss, a game can seem determined by just one or two plays. That wasn’t the case in last season’s semifinals blow-out.
But the Golden Eagles aren’t analyzing their tactics anymore. The holiday tournament loss proved their game plan was sound.
They come into today’s game knowing a win against Columbia won’t come from a clipboard.
“It won’t come down to Xs and Os,” junior point guard Isaiah Dennis said, “it’s just who’s being competitive and who’s got heart.”