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Basketball: Tolbert sets the tone as Denmark reaches Elite Eight
Adonnis Tolbert
Denmark senior Adonnis Tolbert, left, goes up against Burke County junior James Mable during Wednesday's 74-59 win against the Bears in the Sweet 16. Photo by Jay Rooney Photography

Below the net is Adonnis Tolbert's territory. Don't even try to come through.

Burke County junior James Mable found out the hard way Wednesday, when he drove for a layup with Tolbert waiting, ready to pounce. 

So, Tolbert turned, swatted the ball out of the air, then simply shook his head as he ran back down the court.

"I didn't think he was going to shoot," Tolbert said. "I thought he was just going to pass it back out, but when I saw him shoot I said, 'No, sir,' and I kicked it out."

Tolbert had 18 points and seven rebounds, sophomore Robert Cowherd added a team-high 19 points and Denmark blew past Burke County, 74-57, and into the Elite Eight for the second consecutive year.

Denmark will await Thursday's Upson-Lee/Oconee County winner. If Upson-Lee wins, the Danes will travel to Upson-Lee next week. However, if Oconee County wins, the Danes will host the Elite Eight matchup.

Denmark (24-5) dominated in the paint Wednesday, nearly doubling the Bears' 17 rebounds. Juniors Sutton Smith and Joseph Scott each finished with 13 points. 

"We've preached that all year long, is that we have an obvious advantage in the post," Denmark head coach Tyler Whitlock said. "I mean, you've got 6-foot-6, 6-foot-5, and those guys play above the rim. It's just a matter of, are we gonna choose to actually utilize that size or are we going to try to do everything at the perimeter. Tonight, we did what we asked. We asked to play inside out. We got it going on the inside, which freed up Sutton (Smith) and Robert (Cowherd) to do some stuff on the wings."

Robert Cowherd
Denmark sophomore Robert Cowherd, right, goes up for a layup Wednesday during the Danes' 74-59 win against the Bears in the Sweet 16. Photo by Jay Rooney Photography
Denmark's defense smothered Burke County early, forcing turnovers and allowing the Danes to score 21 of the first 30 points.

Denmark led by as many as 19 points in the second quarter before Burke County senior Dexter Jones began to heat up, scoring 13 of his game-high 22 points in the first half. Jones' 3-pointer ignited an 11-2 Burke County run, which was interrupted by one of Tolbert's three dunks that allowed the Danes to shift the momentum. 

"I was real glad that I could get the intensity going early," Tolbert said. "And then the rest of the team was able to feed off of it and continue to play with intensity all throughout the game. Even though they went on runs, we were able to keep our focus and come out with a win."

Denmark opened the second half with a 10-0 run, capped by a layup from sophomore Kourtland Tolbert, then Adonnis Tolbert added a couple of second-half dunks — a two-handed jam, then one that he threw down emphatically with one hand in front of a buzzing student section. 

"In the beginning, most people want to jump. Once you've already dunked a couple, and then you've earned the right to just dunk it all by yourself, it feels great," Tolbert said. "As you see, I was flexing a little bit down there. It's a great feeling. It's always an adrenaline rush every time."

Scott scored all 13 of his points in the second half, adding seven rebounds and a block of his own. 

Scott (6-foot-5) and Tolbert (6-foot-6) were no match for Burke County in the post, though Whitlock said Scott has worked to develop his outside shooting this season.

Joseph Scott
Denmark junior Joseph Scott, left, tries to block Burke County senior Dexter Jones' shot during Wednesday's 74-59 win against the Bears in the Sweet 16. Photo by Jay Rooney Photography
"He's worked really hard to develop that outside shot so he can step outside and drain the three," Whitlock said. "As a matter of fact, I think he leads our shooting percentage from the three right now. So, he just adds another dynamic because if AD starts to get tired, we say, 'OK, Joe, it's your turn to try to go down and do some of the dirty work. And he's all about that."

Denmark fell in the Elite Eight last year, 58-50, to Woodward Academy. If the Danes advance past that mark this year, expect Denmark's two physical forwards to play a role. 

"It was great to see Adonnis play as well as he did, so aggressively," Whitlock said, "because we're going to need that if we're going to have a chance to make a real run."