Jefferson guard scores 34 points to put Dragons in Sweet 16
If there seems to be a sense of urgency in Austin Thompson, there’s a reason.
The Dragon senior shooting guard doesn’t want to play his last game.
Thompson, who’s been red-hot in the postseason, dropped a career-high 34 points on North Murray Saturday night as Jefferson (20-9) beat the Mountaineers 68-50 in the first round of the state tournament to continue on in the Class AA bracket. Click here for photos.
“I’m just trying to lead the team and do whatever I need to do, whether that’s being a distributor and getting the ball to the open man or taking the winning shot,” said Thompson, who is averaging 26.5 points per game in the postseason.
The second-seeded Dragons will play two-time defending state champ and top-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian (24-5) Wednesday in the Sweet 16. Tip-off time has yet to be determined.
Thompson’s stellar postseason has helped Jefferson get this far. He got rolling in region tournament — during which he scored at least 22 points in each game — and the shots kept falling against third-seeded North Murray (21-10).
“All three games he played (at the region tournament) were great and tonight he was just tremendous,” Jefferson coach Bolling DuBose said.
Thompson opened the game with a three-pointer and finished with five treys on the night, four of which came in the first half. He also hit 13-of-14 from the foul line.
DuBose noted that Thompson had to play a long stretch at point guard for Andre Daniel, who ran into foul trouble.
“He did a great job taking over for Andre at point guard and it didn’t really affect his scoring,” DuBose said.
Thompson scored 10 of his 34 points in a pivotal third quarter for the Dragons.
Up 33-30 at the half, Jefferson used a 14-2 run in the first 4:05 of the third quarter to build a 15-point lead and separate itself from North Murray. The Mountaineers never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
“Coach DuBose talks to us all the time about how whoever comes out stronger in the second half has a great chance to win the game,” Thompson said.
Neither team seemed ready for their seasons to be over during a back-and-forth first half that featured 12 lead changes.
Thompson sparked the Dragons with 16 first-half points and tipped the scales in Jefferson’s favor in the waning moments of the second quarter. With the game tied at 30,Thompson got to an open spot on the floor and drained a three with four seconds left to give the Dragons a 33-30 halftime lead.
Then Jefferson took over in the third.
Will Puckett, who finished with 10 points, capped the Dragons’ big third-quarter run with a bucket at the 3:55 mark to put Jefferson up 47-32. North Murray never recovered after that.
“We talk all the time about how the first four to five minutes of the third quarter are the most important of the second half,” DuBose said. “That really sets the tone.”
Up 50-39 heading into the fourth quarter, Jefferson removed any doubt with a 9-2 run to build an 18-point lead. Jefferson allowed just 20 points in the second half.
“The biggest thing was our defense in the second half,” DuBose said. “To hold them to 20 second-half points was great.”
Now Jefferson faces its biggest challenge of the season against Greater Atlanta Christian, which defeated Callaway 64-48 in the first round of state. The Spartans have won 17 of their last 18 games.
“They’ll probably be the best coached team we’ll play all year," DuBose said.
And that’s fine with Thompson and his Dragon teammates.
“They’re going to be a really hard challenge,” Thompson said. “But I’ve been telling my teammates whoever we play, we can’t be scared. We can’t back down from anybody.”