PREP BASKETBALL: Rome teams hit the road for the first round of state
While most teams prefer to play in front of the home crowd, being on the road can have its benefits when everything is on the line.
The Rome High basketball teams will get a chance Friday to test that theory out when the Wolves and Lady Wolves hit the road for the opening round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
The No. 4-seeded Wolves will face No. 1 seed Riverwood, and the No. 3-seeded Lady Wolves will go up against No. 2 seed Jackson-Atlanta.
In a win-or-go-home situation, Rome boys’ assistant coach Lavon Grant said the pressures of being on the road can increase a team’s focus.
“Not to take anything away from being at home,” Grant said. “We’d love to be at home for the playoffs, but it’s a mindset you have to create about going on the road. Everybody has to have laser-sharp focus and be that much more focused going on the road in order to get the job done. No mistakes or you’re going home.”
Girls’ head coach Jason Harris agreed, adding there can be fewer distractions in a gym away from home.
“We embrace it,” Harris said. “I like playing on the road because it takes away from my distractions. I don’t have to worry about trying to set up a gym or any of those things. We get to go and just worry about basketball and playing. Plus, if you’re going to win state, you’ve got to win on the road anyway.”
The Lady Wolves (18-10) are in the postseason for the second straight season, and while the team suffered injuries to a few key players earlier in the season, Harris is confident his group can find success in the playoffs against the streaking Jaguars (19-6), who have won eight of their last 10 games.
The Lady Wolves have been carried this season Region 7-5A all-region first-teamer Tarrah Gibson, and second-teamers Tamiya Griffin and Amberly Brown.
“We’re feeling confident and ready to go,” Harris said. “They’re very athletic so we’re going to try to play a high-paced game. We’re going to try to make sure we do the fundamental things we know how to do to try to minimize their strengths. We’re going to make sure we do our type of defense, which is to get after them from tip to buzzer.”
The Wolves (16-12), who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2014, take a couple of key weapons into Friday’s matchup against the Raiders with Region 7-5A Player of the Year Caleb Byrd and Jaylen Nelson, a region honorable mention.
Byrd has consistently been Rome’s top scorer, putting up huge numbers this season including a 51-point career high against Forest Park back in December. Nelson has provided a spark from the outside adding to the Wolves’ depth.
The Raiders (19-9) are on a five-game winning streak, but Grant is optimistic with the way the Wolves are playing.
“We’re playing some of our best ball right now,” Grant said. “We know that, and we’re up for the challenge. We’re excited to be in the playoffs, but we’re excited that we’re a good enough team to advance.”