Both of the Panthers’ losses were narrow, coming to 6A’s unranked North Atlanta, 49-48 on Dec. 4, and to No. 6 Washington County, 59-55 on Dec. 20.
The Eagles, led by 6-foot-6 senior wing Mason Lockhart, will play their first in-state competition since Dec. 14, when they beat McNair 87-29 to move to 3-0 in Region 6. Their last six games have been against Louisiana’s Carver Collegiate and St. Augustine, Tennessee’s Bartlett, Kentucky’s Frederick Douglass and Florida’s Miami Country Day and Lakewood. They went 4-2 in those games.
This will be the Eagles’ final non-region game, and it’s the first game of 2022 for both teams.
No. 10 Lovett Lions (20-8, 6-2 Region 6) at No. 2 Pace Academy Knights (8-4, 2-0)
This is another rivalry where the schools are located three miles apart. The “Battle for Buckhead” has been lopsided in recent years, with the Knights winning the last seven meetings dating to 2019. Last season, the Knights went 3-0.
Saturday’s matchup will look a lot different with Matthew Cleveland and Ryan Mutombo now in college.
The Knights are led by 6-foot-7 senior forward Josh Reed, who signed with Cincinnati. He’s averaging 21 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.9 steals. He’s one of just three seniors on the roster. Their next two leading scorers are underclassmen — freshman Bryson Tiller (11 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.7 blocks) and sophomore Kyle Green (10.9 points, six assists, 2.3 steals).
The Knights lost 71-69 to 6-2A rivals Columbia on Dec. 7, but that game didn’t count toward the region standings. Their other losses were to 7A’s No. 7 Norcross, Maryland’s Dematha, ranked No. 9 in the country according to the MaxPreps computer rankings, and 1A Private’s top-ranked Greenforest.
The Lions have been hovering just above .500, with all of their wins coming to unranked teams. They’ve beaten 6-2A teams South Atlanta, KIPP and McNair, 7A’s Walton (twice) and 4A’s Midtown. They’ve played just one ranked Georgia team, 3A’s No. 9 GAC, and lost 59-49. Ohio’s Emmanuel Baptist, ranked No. 5 in Division IV, also beat the Knights 66-55 on Nov. 26. Friendship, ranked No. 6 overall in DC, beat them 60-52 the next day. Pope and West Forsyth were their other losses.
Both teams will play in extended-holiday tournaments Saturday, with the Lions playing Florida’s Tampa Catholic in the Georgia vs. Everyone Showcase at Norcross. The Knights will play 7A’s No. 8 South Gwinnett in the New Year’s Classic at Grayson.
No. 8 Gordon Central Warriors (8-5, 2-1 Region 7) at No. 2 Fannin County Rebels (10-2, 2-0)
Friday’s game is the first matchup of the season between these two, with the next coming Feb. 1. Last season, the Warriors went 0-3 against the Rebels, with the Rebels winning their last game 57-20 in the region tournament.
The Rebels, last year’s finalists, opened 2022 with a 64-9 win over Coosa. They beat Model 64-32 in their only other region game on Dec. 7. Another highlight win is 4A’s No. 10 North Oconee. Both of their losses came to top five teams — 4A’s No. 1 Jefferson and Murphy, ranked No. 3 in North Carolina’s 1A.
The Warriors, who reached the playoffs last last season, started 8-1 but are in the midst of a four-game losing streak that includes a 46-37 defeat by Pepperell in 7-2A action. The other losses were to out-of-state teams during a holiday tournament.
No. 9 Northeast Raiders (9-4, 3-0 Region 3) at No. 10 Bleckley County Royals (7-4, 0-2)
These teams split last year’s series, with home team winning each time. Friday’s matchup is the first of two for the regular season, with the second coming Feb. 1 at Northeast.
After a 7-2 start, the Royals are looking to avoid both a three-game skid of double-digit losses and dropping to 0-3 in region play. They’ve played just one ranked team, 1A Public’s No. 10 Dooly County, and lost 51-50. They closed 2021 with a 67-48 loss to 4A’s West Laurens and opened 2022 with a 71-56 loss Lamar County in region play. They lost 48-47 to Dodge County in their other region loss.
The Raiders are riding senior guard Jakia Little, who leads 2A and is third-overall in the state with a 25.4-point scoring average and has 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 steals. Junior Laniya Richardson is averaging 14.6 points and 3.4 steals.
The Raiders started 1-3, losing to 7A’s No. 4 Norcross and Peachtree Ridge and 5A’s No. 7 Warner Robins. They’re 8-1 since, including blowouts of Southwest (67-3), Jasper County (82-16) and Central (87-38). They rebounded from a 69-50 loss to 5A’s No. 5 Northside, which closed out 2021, by beating Dodge County 59-41 Tuesday.