Georgia Tech fans had to like what they saw from Tift County guard Tadric Jackson on Saturday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion. So did those who made the 200-mile drive from Tifton to watch the future Yellow Jacket lead the Blue Devils into the Class AAAAAA title game.
Jackson scored 35, nearly twice his season average, and helped No. 3 Tift County to a 78-70 win over defending state champion and No. 4-ranked Norcross.
“I think they underestimated us because we’re from the south,” Jackson said. “They think all the good teams are from the north, but we proved we could play with them.”
The 6-foor-2 senior is one of Georgia Tech’s big signees for the 2014-15 season. He averages 18.8 points and showed his skills from the outside and through an assortment of baseline moves. Jackson was also adept at passing the ball and even had time late in the fourth quarter for a heart-to-heart talk with younger brother Tyrie about relaxing and making free throws.
“We didn’t have an answer for Jackson,” Norcross coach Jesse McMillan said. “Every time we got close, he got a basket. We just couldn’t keep him out of the lane, which is what we had hoped to do.”
Tyrie Jackson added 12 points and Ladarius Stewart had 11 points and five rebounds for Tift County (28-3), which is seeking its first state championship since 1996.
Norcross (25-7) got 23 points from Ricky Madison, 17 from A.J. Bush and 16 points from Lorenzo Carter. The Blue Devils had won five state championships since 2006.
The first quarter was dead even until Tift scored the final five points of the quarter to take a 16-10 lead. Norcross trimmed the lead to 18-17 on a 3-pointer from Ricky Madison, but Tift scored seven straight and 14 of the next 16 points. Jackson had three baskets, one of them a 3-pointer, during that stretch and Tift led 34-24 at intermission.
Tift pushed its lead to 15 points at 41-26, but Norcross went on a 16-3 run to draw within a bucket. Norcross finally tied the game at 57-57 on a basket by Madison, only to have Tift got a 13-3 run to take a 10-point lead with 3:10 remaining.
The Norcross defense kept pressure on Tift and got back to win three points at 72-69, but could not get any closer. Tift made six free throws in the final minute to end the threat.
“This was a big win,” Jackson said. “We came in here and played hard. We got to the playoffs my junior year and we wanted to come back and win it all this year.”