With half the 2005-06 season already gone, the Evans Knights and Harlem Bulldogs are certainly no strangers to each other.
The two teams have met three times this season. The Knights won the first battle at Harlem, and then managed a slim 84-79 overtime win when the Bulldogs came to Evans on Dec. 17.
"We don't want to have any more close games with Columbia County teams," Evans senior Jerome Manuel said.
The third meeting came last week when Evans played host to Harlem in the championship game of the Firehouse Subs Shoot Out.
The two teams took similar roads to the tournament finals. Wednesday's opening round games saw Harlem cruise to a 65-41 win over Lincoln County, while Evans took care of Warren County with a 72-40 victory.
In the championship game, Manuel's 18-point performance ensured that the game would not be close as Evans claimed the title with a 69-55 win.
The Knights jumped out to a quick 20-9 first-quarter advantage. Harlem countered with back-to-back 3-pointers from Eric Beard and Ajay Miller midway through the second quarter to bring the Bulldogs within three points of the Knights.
Evans maintained the lead through the third quarter and won the game at the charity stripe by shooting 13-for-16 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter for the win.
Manuel's game-high 18 points matched his 18-point effort from the previous night and gave him the title of Firehouse Subs Shoot Out Tournament MVP.
Kenny said Manuel, normally the team's defensive specialist, is equally talented on the offensive end.
"Sometimes he doesn't get the chance to show off his offense because we've got some other guys who can score on a regular basis," Kenny said. "He's probably the most complete player we have."
The senior guard complemented his offensive numbers with his typical lock-down defense. In the Knights' overtime win over Harlem, senior Sean Hackshaw led the Bulldogs with 20 points. Manuel matched up man-to-man against Hackshaw and limited the leading Bulldog to only two points in the first half and 13 for the game.
"A lot of that was Jerome's defense," Kenny said. "He usually guards the other team's best scorer."
The win improved Evans to 13-2 and kept the Knights' winning streak alive at 11 games.
Evans junior Wes Wuchte and Harlem seniors Eric Beard and DeMarcus Morris joined Manuel on the Firehouse Subs All-Tournament Team.
The two schools also have faced each other three times in girls basketball this season. The Lady Bulldogs have the advantage over Evans with three straight wins, including Thursday's 46-43 win in the Firehouse Subs Shoot Out.
After Harlem defeated Lincoln County 57-33 and the Lady Knights beat Warren County 65-15, the winners advanced to the tournament finals.
In a game that saw seven lead changes in the fourth quarter, Harlem senior April Woodard nailed a 3-pointer with 1:09 left in the game to take the lead. Woodard turned in 32 points in the tournament's two games and was named Tournament MVP.
"April can dominate the game," Evans coach Tim Whitfield said. "Sometimes we have to worry about her too much and give up easy baskets to some of their other players."
Harlem freshman Nicole Wells was one of those players who took advantage of the Knights with 14 points in the championship game.
Wells was named to the Firehouse Subs All-Tournament Team after turning in 26 points in the two tournament wins.
"Nicole Wells is the one who really stepped up for us," Chambers said. "She started out this year playing some JV and some varsity. We knew there was going to be a time where she was going to have to contribute big for us."
Evans' Janay Moore and Lauren Middleton joined Wells and Woodard on the Firehouse Subs All-Tournament Team.
The Knights and Lady Knights will begin the meat of their Region 2-AAAA schedule by traveling to Statesboro, Ga., on Friday night, while Harlem will pick up their Region 3-AAA play by playing host to Cross Creek on Saturday.
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