The Greenbrier High School boys basketball team entered the Columbia County Christmas Tournament as a long-shot, but it became big shots after taking the title with two wins at the Lakeside High School gymnasium.
The Pack beat Lakeside 45-37 in the finals of the two-day event, behind dominating play from newcomer Eric Marshall.
Greenbrier took a 1-6 record into the Dec. 21-22 tourney, but that was without Marshall. The transfer student became eligible just before the holiday event, where he earned Most Valuable Player honors.
"I knew we would pull it together. That's what good teams do and we're a good team," Marshall said. "We just had to get the chemistry together."
Marshall scored 21 points in the finals, playing every position from point to post. He pounded inside for 12 rebounds, including nine of Greenbrier's 13 second-half rebounds.
Greenbrier advanced to the championship with a 56-52 win against Evans on Friday. The Knights scored 25 points in the fourth quarter to make it close, and Evans senior Teddy Ingram hit five three-point shots during the game.
Lakeside sophomore Matt Scott also clicked in first-round action, scoring 33 points to lead the Panthers to a 66-63 win over Harlem.
While Marshall was in the spotlight Saturday night, Greenbrier senior Leon Borders was busy slowing down Scott in the finals. Borders applied tight pressure and limited Scott to 11 points.
"Leon did a heck of a job for us. Both nights he had to guard the key ball players and he knew what his responsibility was," coach Garrett Black said. "We knew Scott was going to get some points; Leon had to keep him from hitting those 3-pointers."
Senior guard Tommy McKinney scored 13 points and directed the Pack offense, which committed 12 turnovers in the game. Lakeside's guard-oriented attack had only nine turnovers, but the Panthers could not work inside for buckets.
With the title in hand, Black strengthened his grip on local bragging rights with his third championship in the Columbia County Christmas Tournament in four years: the veteran coach also led the Pack to the top in 1998 and '99, but did not coach the varsity team last year. Now, now Black is glad to be back.
"It's a big thrill. You always want to win when you play the other Columbia County schools," he said. "It's great to have these rivalries, but we've still got to play them a couple more times down the road."
The Pack and Panthers will battle later this season for position in Region 3-AAAA, but after coming up short in the Christmas tournament, Lakeside coach Richie Carnes wasn't quite ready to focus on future revenge.
"We'll have more important games (against Greenbrier) in the region standings, but not more important to all the fans that were here tonight," Carnes said. "We didn't come out ready to play."
Columbia County Christmas Tournament
First round: Greenbrier 56, Evans 52; leading scorers - Greenbrier, Tommy McKinney (18) and Eric Marshall (18), Evans, Teddy Ingram (21). Lakeside 66, Harlem 63; leading scorers - Lakeside, Matt Scott (33), Harlem, Domonique Brown (19).
Consolation game: Evans 49, Harlem 47; leading scorers - Evans, John Harris (18), Harlem, Brown (17) and Chris Williams (17).
Championship game: Greenbrier 45, Lakeside 37; leading scorers - Greenbrier, Marshall (21), Lakeside, Scott (11).
All-tournament team: Harlem - Domonique Brown; Evans - John Harris; Greenbrier - Tommy McKinney; Lakeside - Matt Scott; Greenbrier - Eric Marshall, Most Valuable Player.
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