It has been all about meeting expectations in this final month of the regular season for the Maclay Marauders. Not what the opponent expects or the fans, but what the team expects, to win.
At halftime of its game against Crossroad Friday - and seeing the Scorpions up 26-22 - Maclay knew it could win.
But needed to start executing it on the court.
Mixed in with the expectations of the team, there was a sour taste of what happened in their last meeting with the Scorpions, where Crossroad walked away with a narrow 62-60 win.
"We all play together," Senior forward Jaquay Randolph said. "We were down at halftime and talked with each other. We realized what we had to do, came out and executed."
In a game that was looking like was going to come down to the wire again, Maclay took off in the third quarter, seeing the Marauders outscore the Scorpions, 27-15. Maclay held a consistent two-possession lead and pushed off from there, defeating Crossroad, 65-51.
It's a big momentum-building win for Maclay, heading deeper into a jam-packed January, but they are looking at it as business per usual.
"We played like we expected to play, and we expected to win," Marauders head coach Eugene Granger said. "If we play as we should then we should win."
Challenges in high places
Maclay has found an edge this season off of its height. The Marauders are boasting 11 players at or over 6-foot-3-inches this season, and at the top of their score sheet are their two tallest players: Randolph (6-foot-9-inches) and junior forward Blaise Wallace (6-foot-6-inches).
Throughout the season the two haven't had too many problems weaving through players like high grass, but Friday night served presented a more level playing field when it came to height. Crossroad is a team with a lot of height as well, seeing junior forward Kris Parker (6-foot-8-inches) and senior forward Michael Smith (6-foot-7-inches) dominate the paint.
Wallace has done a lot of the scoring for Maclay, but it's Randolph who has spent a lot of time under the net on both ends of the court. Friday, he received a little more pushback from an equally taller opponent, but he said he enjoyed the challenge.
"We usually don't go up against height like ours, but when we do we do what we've got to do," Randolph said. "It made me have an actual challenge and I love having challenges."
Maclay's big's finished off the night strong once again, seeing Wallace lead the charge with 21 and Randolph with nine. One of the biggest factors that decided the game was the line.
Fouls were hurting Crossroads in the first quarter, but its offense was finding a way a keep pace with the Marauders. However, when Maclay put its foot on the gas in the second half, the fouling continued and sent Maclay to the line constantly. Wallace shot 11-15, Randolph 3-5, and junior guard Colin McAllister 6-8 from the charity stripe.
"It's been so important," Randolph said. "We excelled from the beginning of the year, where we didn't make free throws at all. Now we're coming out and knocking them down. It's really good to see."
This was a game that Maclay really closed out from every corner of the court. While Wallace and Randolph stayed busy in the paint, McAllister was closing out from 3-point range, draining five treys on the night and finishing with 23 points.
"He [McAllister] wasn't trying to do too much and was keeping it simple when he was open, " Granger said. "When guys are open, pass, and take the shots that are open. Just don't predetermine anything."
Looking at the bigger picture
Friday night was a big win for Maclay, but there is also the realization that they can do more to become an even better team. Granger said that he doesn't want the win Crossroads to dictate what the rest of the season will look like.
"We've still a long ways to go," Granger said. "We got turnover tonight that we shouldn't have had and missed opportunities. We still have some missed free throws. We've just got to tighten up on everything and not make these wins a determination of our season. There's still a lot to do."
However, There was a factor of recovery that showed what Maclay was capable of. There was a lot of motivation from the loss that the Marauders suffered to the Scorpions played into the surge the team had in the third quarter. That sour taste from the Capital City Classic game turned sweet by the final buzzer.
"It's just the animal inside all of us," Randolph said. "We don't like that around here. After that last game, we had to come out here and show them who we were."
Maclay is still focused on getting the job done game in and game out, but there are also lessons of competition that it's taking away from this game. Crossroad is one of the top teams in 2A and the Marauders want to remember that they can compete with teams of similar height at speed.
"We're capable of playing against size, rebounding, and defending," Granger said. "We've just got to keep doing that and we know we can do it. That's not a surprise."
Jack Williams covers prep sports for Tallahassee Democrat. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @jackgwilliams.
Maclay 65, Crossroad Academy 51
Maclay (11-5): 11, 11, 27, 16 - 65
Crossroad (10-4): 10, 16, 15, 10 - 51
Maclay: McAllister 11 6-8 23, Wallace 5 11-15 21, Randolph 3 3-5 9, Stone 0 1-2 7, Heuchan 1 0-0 2, Grant 0 2-4 2, Rash 0 1-2 1. Totals 20 24-36 65.
Crossroad: Godfrey 7 2-2 16, Parker 4 6-6 14, Smith 6 0-0 12, Levens 3 0-0 6, Bradwell 1 1-1 3, Chukes 0 0-2 0. Totals 21 9-11 51.
3-pointers: Maclay 7 (McAllister 5, Stone 2). Crossroad 0.
Fouls: Maclay 12. Crossroad 18.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Maclay picks up big time win over 2A power Crossroad Academy