Montevallo advances to Sweet 16 with 17th win in a row

By SETH HAGAN | Special to the Reporter

MONTEVALLO – The Montevallo Bulldogs are moving on after eventually separating themselves from a scrappy Handley Tigers team Tuesday, Feb 11, in a sub-regional playoff game.

The Tigers kept it close throughout, but the Bulldogs pulled away in the end to advance to the Sweet 16 with a 64-55 victory—their 17th in a row.

“We knew they were a great defensive team, they can score and we had to keep their big guys off the boards,” said Montevallo head coach Greg Dickinson. “If we maintained the rebounds we knew we would be successful.”

Montevallo (25-6, 8-0) came out strong in front of the home crowd scoring 11 straight after giving up the initial basket. Michael Jones and Kavounte Britton hit back-to-back threes in the run, but Handley countered with seven straight.

Both teams fought hard for each possession, but Montevallo found the early edge on defense and took a 16-11 lead after one.

The Bulldogs continued to turn the Tigers over in the second quarter, but found it hard to create any more breathing room before halftime.

Handley closed the lead to three, but JaBrian Sullens zoned in for the remainder of the quarter sinking four of six free throws and adding a reverse dunk and layup in transition. Sullens scored 10 of Montevallo’s 14 points in the second quarter.

“He really worked his butt off this week, because his free throw percentage has been down so he really spent a lot of time focusing on them,” Dickinson said. “It was great to see that hard work pay off for him. He made a lot of big time free throws for us tonight.”

Handley (21-11, 5-1), down 30-23 at half, made a small push at the start of the third quarter, but couldn’t capitalize at the free throw line. Those fouls mostly came at the expense of Montevallo’s Jamarius Carter, who was called for three fouls in the first four minutes.

Down their big senior center, sophomore Michael Jones seized the moment. Jones scored seven straight as the Bulldogs responded with an 11-2 run to give them their biggest lead of the night at 46-32.

Handley scored six straight, but Jones followed with a three-point play to close the quarter with 10 points and a 49-38 lead.

“Michael J been a great leader for us just as a sophomore, he really blossomed last year as a freshman,” Dickinson said. “When JC went down, I told him he’s going to have to put in work and he hit that big three to stop them. He just maintained the flow of the whole offense, dictating where guys should go, penetrating and he just opens up a lot of things for us when he does that.”

Another good start for the Tigers in the fourth quarter drew them within six, but Jones was there again with his third trey of the night. Handley continued to play hard, but failed to get closer than seven the rest of the way.

Montevallo hit 12 of 18 free throw attempts including the last six to seal their fate. Michael Jones led all scorers with 22, including 19 in the second half. JaBrian Sullens finished with 16 of his own.

Corey Bell scored 17 to lead Handley as Dylan Brooks and Devontae Houston added 12 and 10 points, respectively.

Montevallo will take on LAMP in Montgomery on Monday, Feb. 17, at 10:30 a.m.