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Vigor defense suffocates Trojans as Wolves advance to state tournament

Vigor’s Terrel Johnson goes up for a shot while surrounded by Charles Henderson defenders during Wednesday’s Class 5A South Regional final at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery. Johnson was named the regional MVP after scoring 13 points in Vigor’s 63-48 win. (Helen Joyce/Call News)

 

By JIMMY WIGFIELD

MONTGOMERY — Vigor coach Jairus Jackson sucked in a deep breath when he walked off the floor Wednesday following a 63-48 victory over Charles Henderson that put the No. 4-ranked Wolves in the state tournament.

He hadn’t been benching 300 pounds but it felt like it.

“That’s a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Jackson said. “It’s all the stress and hard work in the summer and it all comes down to one game. To see it materialize and go to the final four, we deserve it, the players and community deserve it.”

Wielding a man-to-man defense that likewise sucked the oxygen out of the Trojans for three periods and forced 21 turnovers, Vigor (27-6) led from start to finish in the Class 5A South Regional final at Garrett Coliseum.

The Wolves will return to the state final four for the 13th time and first time since 2021 seeking their first Blue Map. They play Guntersville in the semifinals on Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at Legacy Arena in Birmingham.

Regional MVP Terrel Johnson and Aslan Jones scored 13 points apiece for Vigor, which will carry a nine-game winning streak into Birmingham.

Jones hoisted a couple of early three-pointers against Charles Henderson’s zone defense as the Wolves took a 21-9 lead in the first period.

“I saw their zone and they weren’t helping so I told them to get it to me and I’ll make it,” Jones said.

The Trojans (21-11) — who had a 13-game winning streak broken — rallied to cut the lead to 30-29 at halftime but Vigor’s superior, trapping man defense in the halfcourt strangled Charles Henderson to 8-of-23 shooting in the second half.

“I tell people they like to see our offensive fireworks, dunks and three-pointers but our heartbeat is defense,” Jackson said. “Defense wins championships.”

A year ago, the Trojans ended the Wolves’ season with a 67-41 win in the regional semifinals. This time, it was Vigor’s turn to show it has a championship-caliber defense.

“We had toughness and grit,” Jackson said. “Charles Henderson ended our season last year. I knew they wouldn’t quit. At halftime, I told the guys they’ve got to keep defending and keep going. This is why we put in the conditioning and why we practice on Sunday afternoons.”

Johnson, a 6-2 senior forward, was active with seven rebounds and three steals.

“If we come out with our hands up and we’re talking on defense, nobody can stop us, they’re not going to beat us,” he said. “Our mindset is defense, defense, defense.”

In last year’s regional semifinals, the Trojans’ Jywon Boyd scored 25 points. On Wednesday, he was held to 14 points and Charles Henderson shot just 35%. The Wolves scored 25 points off the 21 turnovers.

Vigor was also patient against the Trojans’ zone, outscoring them 36-16 in the paint. The Wolves also began penetrating the zone in the fourth period and got to the free-throw line, making 5 of 7 foul shots in the last eight minutes and 15 of 22 in the game.

And now it’s on to Birmingham.

“We’ve talked about it all year,” Jones said.

The Vigor boys are making the trip for more than themselves. They also want to win for the Wolves’ girls team, which suffered a controversial loss in the region semifinals on an apparent scoring error. Some of the players and coach Andrea Powell attended Wednesday’s game.

“It was good to see them here,” Jackson said. “I hate that happened to them. We want to carry the school. We want to keep the Vigor family and community encouraged.”

Added Jones: “We want to do it for them.”

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