Three tournaments into the season, Madison Prep Academy was uncharacteristically still in search of its first championship.
A quarter-and-a-half into Saturday’s final of the Fifth Annual Madison Prep Classic against red-hot West Jefferson didn’t provide any evidence whether the Chargers would break through.
Then, over the final minute of the second quarter, Madison Prep raised the level of its defensive intensity and erased a seven-point deficit to take a halftime lead they would never relinquish in a 51-40 victory over Class 5A West Jefferson.
“It’s not the ultimate one (championship), but it ranks up there because I could see growth in this season,” MPA coach Jeff Jones said. “We weren’t ready to beat Lafayette Christian (in the Hamilton Christian tourney) or Washington-Marion (in the Northside tourney). When we had the lead, we squandered it. We missed free throws.”
Madison Prep (11-3) won for the sixth straight time while snapping a nine-game win streak by West Jefferson (11-3).
Madison Prep closed the first half on an 8-0 surge and opened the third quarter with a pair of baskets from Josh Anderson and Jhron Whitfield that bridged a 13-0 blitz for a 31-23 lead.
West Jefferson forced Madison Prep into 10 first-half turnovers. Casey Ransow’s 3-pointer and JaQuan Jackson’s driving layup provided the Bucs with a 19-12 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Chargers went to a run-and-jump defense and extended their presence on the perimeter, forcing the Bucs into half of their eight turnovers. That fueled the 8-0 spurt, six of which were the result of turnovers with a slam from Anderson, two free throws from Whitfield and a steal and layup from Marquis Browder.
“We had to put a couple of freshmen (DeJour Lloyd and Tony White) in the game, and they didn’t respond well,” West Jefferson coach Brian Simmons said. “They (Madison Prep) smelled blood, cut the lead we had and took the lead. That was a big difference in the first half.”
Browder, who was named the tournament’s MVP with 13 points, fended off a West Jefferson charge with five straight points, including a 3-pointer off a feed from Kobe Julien for a 36-28 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Leading scorer Jamel Robinson, who finished with 14, started the final quarter with a 3-pointer, and MPA’s lead was never fewer than eight points the rest of the way.
Not only did MPA shoot 57 percent in the second half, 48.7 for the game and make 11-of-13 free throws, but the Chargers limited the Bucs to 3-of-18 shooting in the second half and just 1-of-10 in the fourth quarter.
Madison Prep stretched its lead to as many as 13 points on Julien’s reverse layup, accounting for a 49-36 lead with 1:58 remaining.
“Coming into the tournament, we wanted to establish an identity because we really didn’t have one,” Jones said. “This tournament goes along in the process of establishing that — a tough, hard-nosed defense, making people earn everything they get and take as many high percentage shots as we can.”