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Powell, No. 1 Jackson rise to the occasion, edge Escambia County for first trip to state tournament in 39 years

Jackson’s Nasir Powell takes on Escambia County’s Stephen Williams for a basket during Wednesday’s Class 4A South Regional final at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery. Powell was named the regional MVP after scoring 14 points in the No. 1 Aggies’ 37-35 victory. (Helen Joyce/Call News)




MONTGOMERY — Jackson’s Nasir Powell doesn’t have much to say but when he got a basketball in his hands and a mission in front of him Wednesday, he came through loud and clear.

The 6-3 Powell grabbed a loose ball and dared challenge Escambia County’s 6-9 center Stephen Williams with a floating runner with 55 seconds remaining to give the No. 1-ranked Aggies the lead, then made a free throw with 39 seconds left to nail down a 37-35 victory and put Jackson in the state tournament for the first time since 1985.

“We wanted to get him in foul trouble,” said Powell, the Class 5A South Regional MVP who finished with 14 points. “We had to go inside at him. You can’t be scared of him.”

Williams, who had 16 points, 13 rebounds and 8 blocked shots, gave Powell the requisite respect on the court of Garrett Coliseum after the game.

“Helluva game,” Williams told Powell as they embraced.

That it was. Each team made 14 field goals and each made two 3-pointers. There were seven ties and six lead changes. Each team led by as many as eight points.

In the end, the Aggies (28-2) rallied from a seven-point deficit with a 13-4 run in the final five minutes to rescue their season and win their 18th straight game. They’ll play New Hope or Kate Smith in the state semifinals Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Birmingham’s Legacy Arena.

“Nasir is a quiet leader but believe me we talked and he said, ‘Coach, when the lights come on, I’m going to step up,’” Jackson coach Anthony Hayes said.

Powell — who averages 5.1 points per game, the lowest among the starters — confirmed those assurances.

“I told coach we’re going to get to Birmingham,” Powell said. “I didn’t lie to him.”

Powell’s final basket came after Williams had blocked Keeyun Chapman’s approach and menacingly dispatched William Taylor’s drive on back-to-back possessions. After Taylor failed to break down Williams, Powell grabbed the loose ball, regrouped, then put a butterfly through the hoop and a dagger in the Blue Devils (17-10), who lost to the Aggies for the fourth time this season.

Chapman made the first of two foul shots to make it 37-33 with 23 seconds remaining and Williams responded with a basket that spun around the rim before falling in to make it 37-35 with 8.9 seconds left.

Chapman was fouled on the inbounds play but missed both free throws with 5.8 seconds to go. Williams grabbed the rebound and hurled a halfcourt shot that struck the top of the backboard and Jackson’s first trip to the state tournament in 39 years was official.

The Aggies, who trailed 10-4 after one period and led 16-15 at halftime, won despite shooting only 22%. Despite the presence of Williams inside, Jackson outscored Escambia County 24-16 in the paint and 12-8 off second-chance points and outrebounded the Blue Devils 43-35, including 22-8 on the offensive boards. Chapman had 14 of the rebounds.

Hayes felt he had strength in numbers when attacking Williams.

“We had to go at him,” Hayes said. “It’s heart. I felt like we had an advantage. They had one 6-9 guy and we had four 6-4 guys. That’s a testament to those guys.”

The Blue Devils had taken a 31-24 lead with five minutes left and stayed in their zone, “which slowed us down,” Hayes said.

But Powell’s offensive rebound and foul shot completed a three-point play to tie it 31-31 and Landon Duckworth’s drive on the next possession tied it 33-33.

“We wanted it,” Hayes said.

The Aggies won although leading scorer Micah Caster was held to 6 points, 12 under his average.

Hayes wasn’t worried about the rare lack of production from Caster, who was held under 10 points for the first time all season.

“Outside of Micah, you don’t have one you can lock in on,” Hayes said.

That sort of capability will be comforting when Hayes puts his players on a bus and drives to Birmingham.

“The Blue Map is always the dream,” he said. “We’re going to chase it. We’re going to Birmingham looking to win a game. We’ll take care of Jackson first.”

1 Comment

  1. DeJuan Gilchrist on February 22, 2024 at 8:11 am

    Congratulations to my Aggies, now we need to put together a few more wins to bring home the title.

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