By Gabriel Stovall
RIVERDALE — Martisse Troup was entitled to a moment of retrospection after Wednesday night.
His North Clayton Eagles boys basketball team had just climbed the improbable mountain of “comeback” on the way to a 62-59 win over Westminster in the quarterfinals of the Region 4-AAA Tournament at Atlanta’s Douglass High.
He watched his boys pull off a stunning upset — any time you come back to win a game after being down 20 in the third quarter, it’s an upset — that catapulted them into the state basketball tournament for the sixth straight season — the longest current state tourney streak in Clayton County.
So who could blame Troup for giving himself a pat on the back.
“I guess I must be doing something right over here with North Clayton basketball,” he said.
Something right, indeed.
Despite the schools dip down in classification to AAA — North Clayton was a AAAA school for the past few seasons — there has been no dip in hardwood productivity.
In addition to the state tournament run, the girls team, full of freshmen and sophomores, had a near miss themselves in the region tournament, and gave North Clayton hoops fans plenty to look forward to.
Throw in the fact that the junior varsity boys team won the county title this season, and the ninth and 10th grade squad finished as runners up, and Troup’s got a lot of reasons to stick his chest out.
“I’m very proud of my team,” he said after Wednesday’s triumph. “We had to overcome a lot of adversity. We’ve got a great group of kids, a great group of seniors. Five of them have been with me four years, and the other two at least three years. I knew this class was going to be special their freshman year. I just saw it.”
That class includes Reginald Scurry, the high-scoring senior who some felt got snubbed for all-region Player of the Year honors. Scurry’s 19 points per game average led Region 4-AAA this year, and his play has started to garner some late college attention.
“The Citadel has offered him,” Troup said. “Northern Oklahoma has, and then there was a rep from the University of New Orleans at the game (Wednesday night). He actually came to see the other kid from Westminster, but after he saw Scurry, he offered him.
“I tell him the deeper we go in the state playoffs, the more looks he’ll get.”
Ah, yes, a statement of expectation. North Clayton with its 17-10 record at the end of the regular season, isn’t just happy to be here. And even though the Eagles can completely bomb their next game and still make state, that isn’t the plan at all, according to the coach.
“They’re hungry,” he said. “They want more in this tournament. I think it’s essential that we (keep winning) so we can be able to play at home in state. Our crowds at home have been great and really help us play our best.”
Scurry scored 18 in last night’s win, but he was helped by Taiyon Hector’s 13 points. But it was, perhaps, the team’s defensive performance that truly turned the Eagles’ fortunes.
In the first half, North Clayton was victimized by 6-foot-5 Westminster forward Will Benson to the tune of 18 points. But he only scored five the rest of the way.
“Our five in and five out strategy wore them down,” Troup said, in regard to his defensive-minded substitution pattern in the final two quarters.
North Clayton will face the winner of tonight’s 7:30 p.m. matchup between Cedar Grove and South Atlanta. The odds say that Cedar Grove, the state’s No. 15 ranked team according to MaxPreps, will be the Eagles’ next opponent, which is just fine with Troup.
“More than likely we would get Cedar Grove in the final,” Troup said. “We owe Cedar Grove one as well.”