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Firebirds Defeat Two Best Teams in Southeastern Conference, Improve to 7-5

The Firebirds were very well rested.

At 6:45 on April 10th, the Firebirds were warming up, getting ready for their 7 PM matchup against the Central Alabama Jaguars. However, the game's start time was pushed back to 7:30, as the Jaguars were caught in traffic. The Firebirds received an extra half an hour to prepare; and then the Jaguars still didn't show up. Traffic delays continued, and the Jaguars didn’t arrive until around 7:55. Coming into this game with a record of 8-1, the Jaguars had five minutes of warm-up time; well, at least three of their players did. This pales in comparison to the hour and a half of warm-up time the Firebirds used.

The Jaguars won the tip-off, but on their first possession of the game, a player hit the side of the backboard. The shot after that was an airball, and this continued throughout the first quarter. Given the late 8 PM start time, the game was shortened to four 10-minute quarters instead of four 12-minute quarters.

The Firebirds went with a starting five of Daequon Antoine, Marques Sumner, James McKelvin, Matt McClain, and Darius Leonard. Leonard scored the first two points of the night on a nice hook shot, which he followed up with a nice three. The Firebirds made easy buckets and had nice ball movement, leading to a 12-5 lead midway through the first quarter. They also got a nice boost when point guard Brock Young checked in with 3:26 left. This was the first game Young appeared in since the season opener, against the Carolina Coyotes. He didn’t disappoint, with jaw dropping passes and great defensive plays.

By the end of the first quarter, the Firebirds were up 26-14. However, this didn’t mean they weren’t having trouble on defense.

The Firebirds often had trouble switching screens, leading to multiple open buckets for the Jaguars. The pick and roll action by the Jaguars was deadly, so the Firebirds had to double team the lead guard coming off the pick. They got lucky early on in the game that the Jaguars were missing their shots, but the Firebirds also had trouble converting. Thankfully, Desmond Jackson was having a great game. Jackson, the player of the night, finished the game with four offensive rebounds, and a total of 13 points. “They {The Jaguars’ big men} were good, they were physical,” said Jackson. “They tried their hardest to be physical and keep us off the glass, and try to keep us out of the paint. But at the end of the day we just kind of overpowered them.”

The Jaguars went on a bit of a run towards the end of the first half, bringing the Firebirds’ lead down to seven. However, the Firebirds brought the lead back up to 14 at halftime. Leonard had 10 rebounds by halftime, Sumner had 10 points, and Jackson also had 10 points.

In the third quarter, Sumner got into foul trouble, and had to be taken out for a decent stretch. Luckily, there was an energy shift around halfway through the third quarter (props to Young, McClain, and James McKelvin), which brought the Firebirds to an 18-point lead. It may have seemed like an easy game on the surface, but the Jaguars weren’t 8-1 for no reason. While the third quarter finished with a score of 74-56, the Jaguars began to take back a lead in the fourth. With 7:23 left, there was a very scary moment when Antoine got the ball, pump-faked, and a Jaguar named Chris Dixon jumped up and landed near his neck. He was ok, but still assessed a blocking foul.

Don't worry; Dixon was fine after this play and finished with 10 points

As the Jaguars began to use their press, the Firebirds' lead kept shrinking and shrinking. With 4:25 left in the fourth, it was 89-81. With the Firebirds' leading 103-96, Sumner had to come out of the game with a few minutes left because he had fouled out. With 13.4 seconds left, the Jaguars got the Firebirds' lead down to five points, 105-100. The Jaguars fouled Brock Young to try and stop the clock. Young, who would finish the game with 10 points, 7 assists, and 4 steals, nailed both of his free throws. After another foul, the game was over, with a final score of 109-101.

“It was a good game,” said Jackson. “Good start, had a little rough patch in the first half, then the second half came and I think we got a good lead and then we stopped playing. We let them get back into the game and made it a lot more difficult than it had to be.”

“Great game,” said Young. “Started off a little slow, we picked it up, could have been better in certain areas at certain times of the game, but for the most part it was pretty good."

When Young was asked about his performance, he said, “It was alright. I could have shot the ball a little bit better, it was pretty good, so not too mad about that.”

Young might have had a solid game on Friday, but he took it to another level on Sunday, in a rematch against the Carolina Coyotes. Young dropped 29 points and 4 assists, while shooting 6-13 from three. Matt McClain also played a huge role in the 122-117 win, with 21 points and 7 rebounds. Antoine had 20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals, while Leonard just missed out on a double double with 9 points and 10 rebounds.

This win against the Coyotes was crucial for the Firebirds. It marks the first time they've beaten their Carolina rival this year, and the Coyotes currently sit as the second seed in the Southeastern Conference. The Firebirds are third in the conference, only two games behind the Coyotes. Plus, there's a good chance these two teams will meet again in the TBL playoffs. The more experience and wins the Firebirds have, the better.

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