Mt. Zion (4-16), the No. 5 seed from the South sub-region, led for much of the first half before a 10-0 Excel run gave the No. 4 seed from the North sub-region a 23-17 halftime lead — one it would never surrender from there on out.
West had a monster game, finishing with 30 points and 20 rebounds, while Butt added 13 points and 13 boards. Excel (9-16), which will move on to face No. 1 seed North Cobb Christian on Thursday in the quarterfinal round, dominated the offensive glass to take control of the game.
“They did the same thing at their place. We beat them there, but they still just whooped us inside. And they did the same thing [Monday night],” Mt. Zion coach Steve Lee said. “We didn’t cut the baseline drive off good. Once the ball is shot, it’s hard to regroup. Those offensive rebounds, it’s hard to regroup and block your man out, because it’s a scramble. They got several of those, and they converted. We got a bunch, too, but we just didn’t convert our shots.”
The other glaring difference proved to be at the free-throw line. Mt. Zion shot a paltry 9-for-27 at the charity stripe, while Excel knocked down 18-of-24, including West connecting on 13-of-17 attempts.
“The free-throw line was atrocious. That was probably the worst all year,” Lee said.
With Mt. Zion leading from the opening bucket up until the 2:07 mark of the first half, the major momentum shift came when West buried a 3-pointer from the corner to give Excel Christian an 18-17 lead. On the play, there was also a foul in the post, giving Excel a 1-and-1 situation at the charity stripe. Lee was then whistled for a technical, which put the visitors at the charity stripe for two more shots with the ball back when played resumed.
Lee said it didn’t help any that his two best defensive players were on the bench in foul trouble during the majority of Excel’s 10-0 run to close out the first half.
Excel built its lead to 10 points at 35-25 in the third quarter when Mt. Zion guard Tristen Puckett knocked down back-to-back treys to pull MZ within four at the 1:55 mark.
Down the stretch, though, it was too much West and Butt, who combined to score all but nine of Excel’s 40 second-half points.
Puckett’s third 3-pointer of the evening with 1:02 remaining in the game cut Excel’s lead down to five points, but it knocked down 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
Corey Loftin led Mt. Zion with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Parrish Germany added 14 points and seven boards.
Germany and forward Jake Lemmings were named Second Team All-Region following the game.
Lee, who wrapped up his first year as Mt. Zion’s head coach on Monday night, noted that his young team made some strides this year. But he said there were a couple of variables working against his ball club that created some problems, as far as personnel goes.
“We’re very inconsistent. We haven’t adapted yet to some of the things like we need to. I don’t have a true point guard. Parrish will tell you, ‘I’m not a point guard. I’m a shooting guard.’ Which he is. With Dianta [Henson] gone, we don’t have a point guard,” Lee said. “So it’s tough when you have things like that happen. Parrish is a shoot-first, pass-second, and that just hurts you a lot. He admits that he’s not a point guard. But he’s our best ball-handler.”