Class AAA semifinal report from Savannah

Greater Atlanta Christian qualified both of its teams for the state finals with wins on Saturday at the Georgia Southern Armstrong Campus. The Spartans will meet Jenkins in the boys Class AAA state championship on Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Macon Centreplex. No. 4 GAC won an overtime game against No. 1 Morgan County 73-71 to earn a shot at its eighth boys state title (latest in 2014). Jenkins defeated Westside-Macon 52-49 for a chance at its second title (2015).

GAC’s girls will meet Johnson-Savannah on Thursday at 2 p.m. at the Macon Centreplex. GAC defeated Franklin County 49-43 to earn a finals berth; the Lady Spartans are seeking their ninth state title. Johnson-Savannah defeated Tattnall County 43-33 and is seeking its first state title.

Boys

Greater Atlanta Christian 73, Morgan County 71 (OT): Greater Atlanta Christian will have two teams in the Class AAA finals as the Spartans defeated Morgan County 73-71 in an overtime thriller.

From the opening tip, GAC took advantage from deep and opened an 11-0 lead with 4:03 left in the first quarter. The Spartans were fueled by the hot-handed shooting of guard Hunter McIntosh, who hit five of GAC’s six early three-pointers.

“We were just trying to stay calm throughout the entire game,” said McIntosh, GAC’s junior guard. “We knew that we couldn’t get too high or too low throughout and we knew they could come back and make a run at any time. As long as we stayed calm through every possession, we knew we would be able to get the job done.”

And Morgan County did make a run.

By the beginning of the fourth quarter, GAC was holding a slim lead, 50-47, and holding off a charging Morgan County squad led by 5-foot-9 junior guard Stevin Green. Green’s performance forced an adjustment in the GAC defense, and after the adjustment, GAC found the confidence to hold the Bulldogs at bay.

“We knew we were going to have to pick him up defensively, McIntosh said. “We knew their main guys were (Alec) Woodard and (Tyrin) Lawrence but we knew (Green) was a good player and he was playing very well that game and we knew we were going to have to match that and pick something up.”

Green, who finished with 34 points, tied the game at 61 with 17 seconds left in regulation, hitting a three-pointer that answered Roy Dixon’s deep ball just seconds earlier. The game remained 61-61 at the end of regulation.

“We felt, going to overtime, that we had the momentum,” McIntosh said. “We knew Morgan County gave it their run and we knew we were going to go on another one. We knew we had enough firepower to put them away. So, going into overtime, we felt confident that it was our game.”

In overtime, both squads kept the same intensity. With 2:45 remaining, McIntosh went to the foul line to break the 61-61 stalemate and went 1-of-2 to give GAC a 62-61 lead. Thirty seconds later, Morgan County’s Woodard made a LeBron James-like block on a run-down, but GAC’s Ben Sheppard got the rebound and was fouled on the put-back. At the line, he converted two free throws to push the lead to 64-61.

Morgan County answered on a mid-range jump shot by Anthony Cooper with two minutes remaining to bring it back to a one-point game, 64-63. Woodard gave Morgan County a 65-64 lead with 1:37 left on a beautiful full-court drive as he led a 3-on-3 charge. McIntosh answered with a guarded, nothing-but-net three-pointer from the top of the key to give GAC a two-point cushion, 67-65, with 1:18 remaining.

Following an unorganized Bulldogs possession featuring a slew of missed shots and several offensive rebounds, GAC got the ball back after it bounced off Green’s thigh and went out of bounds with 33 seconds left. On the next possession, GAC’s Branden Harris drew a foul and converted both free throws, giving the Spartans a 69-65 lead. But Morgan County would answer on a contested, leaning three-pointer by Woodard from the top of the key, cutting into the Spartans lead, 69-68, with 24 seconds remaining.

GAC inbounded the ball to McIntosh, who drove down the floor and drew a foul, and he gave his team a three-point lead after converting two freethrows, 71-68. But Morgan answered again, and Woodard found the net on a three-pointer to tie the game at 71-71 with 13 seconds left. McIntosh got the ball off the inbounds and drove the floor, drawing a foul and getting to the line, where he would convert one of two to give the Spartans a 72-71 lead. McIntosh was fouled again with half a second remaining and converted another 1-of-2 at the line to push the lead to 73-71. Morgan County was able to get off a desperation three-point attempt, which fell just short. 

“At that point, being the leader of the team, those are the moments you live for, being able to pull your team over the hump, McIntosh said of his late-game opportunities at the free-throw line. “Coming to the line, I wanted to make two, but I missed the first one. But, at least for me, I think this new era, whether it be me leading the charge or Coach (David) Eaton, I think that we are going to start a new era and a new legacy at GAC.”

McIntosh finished the game with 30 points, and teammates Sheppard (16 points) and Dixon (11 points) helped the effort. Morgan County was led by Green’s 34 points and teammates Woodard (16 points) and Cooper (13 points).

Jenkins 52, Westside-Macon 49: Savannah’s own Jenkins weathered a late charge as it advanced past Westside-Macon in the Class AAA semifinals at Georgia Southern’s Armstrong Campus. The Warriors will face Greater Atlanta Christian in the championship game at 4 p.m. on Thursday in Macon.

“All year long, we have been preparing for games like this,” said Jenkins head coach Bakari Bryant. “We have been running our three-minute practices, scenario practices. Our last couple of games it has kind of been like this, so we were really prepared for this moment. The thing about me and my kids, they were able to keep their composure, they were able to have poise and they were able to stay focused.”

Westside had its chances, however, as it took an early 5-0 lead on the back of a Javian Mosley three-pointer and two free throws by 6-foot-6 senior Gregory Holloway. Jenkins responded with defense and a run of its own, and by the end of the first quarter, the Warriors held an 18-12 lead. Bryant said the defensive shift got his team back into a rhythm on both sides of the court, allowing for the run.

“It was defensive pressure,” he said. “We like to apply pressure, especially against some guards who aren’t as strong at handling the ball. We like to apply defense. I believe it was a bit of our defense and some of their (lack of) offense that allowed us back in it early. At the same time, not taking anything against Westside-Macon, but that’s our thing, defense. We put emphasis on defense and strive for good defense. It’s just one of those things that we put all of our emphasis on.”

Westside got the best of Jenkins in the second quarter on a 10-8 run, but Jenkins looked fully in control of the game as it took a 26-22 lead into the locker room.

Following field goals by Omar Jones and Holloway, Westside pulled even at 26 entering the third quarter before a Lamont Sams Jr. basket gave Jenkins the lead again a minute later. Cutting into the lead quarter-by-quarter, Westside held Jenkins to just nine points in the third. Entering the fourth, Jenkins was clinging to a 35-33 lead.

Coming out of a timeout with 1:10 left and the game tied 45-45, Westside-Macon lost track of its bench and six players entered the court. The mistake proved costly for the Seminoles, who’d clawed back into the game after trailing for most of it. The technical foul led to two Tre’ Mays’ free throws, which he made to give Jenkins a 47-45 lead with 1:15 left.

“When Tre’ went to the line, I knew it was money,” Bryant said. “When I knew we had a tech, all I said was, ‘Tre’, let’s go.’ ... I felt very comfortable. That kid has been my leading scorer throughout the year, but he has ice-cold water in his veins.”

A Sai Fisher free throw pushed the Jenkins lead to 48-45 before Holloway answered back with a game-tying three to make it 48-48. Fisher scored to give Jenkins a 50-48 lead with less than a minute left in the game. Following a foul on the ensuing possession, Westside’s Holloway converted only one of two free throws, and Jenkins kept a 50-49 lead.

With 11 seconds left and Jenkins leading 50-49, Mays nailed two free throws to secure the victory and championship berth.

“Doing this in front of our home fans was huge and it says a lot about these young men,” Bryant said.

Girls

Greater Atlanta Christian 49, Franklin County 43: After being down early in the game, Greater Atlanta Christian used a 19-13 run in the fourth quarter to seal the 49-43 victory over previously unbeaten Franklin County in Savannah. The Lady Spartans will face either Johnson-Savannah or Tattnall County in the championship game in Macon on March 8 at 2 p.m.

“It’s our maturity. And they are listening,” GAC coach Lady Grooms said of GAC’s ability to overcome a deficit while not shooting well. “It’s very difficult in high school to come back when you’re down, because they can hold the ball and can do all of that. I took a chance (in the fourth quarter) and said, ‘Let’s start trapping, let’s start playing D, let’s trap the ball.’”

The game went back and forth in the first half with Greater Atlanta Christian taking a 12-6 lead after the first quarter. Franklin County took advantage in the second quarter, outscoring GAC 17-7 to take the lead. With seconds remaining before the half, GAC’s Taylor Sutton hit her third three-pointer of the game to cut it to a one-point game, 20-19, before Franklin’s Manazia Merriett hit a three-pointer to push it to a 23-19 game entering halftime.

Following an 11-7 run in the third quarter, GAC tied the game at 30-30 entering the final frame. Once in the fourth quarter, the two teams exchanged the lead three times before GAC took control on a 6-0 run with baskets from MaryMartha Turner, Caria Reynolds and Maya Timberlake to give the Lady Spartans a 41-38 lead that they would not relinquish. The Lady Lions forced GAC to win the game at the free-throw line, and the Lady Spartans responded with free throws from Reynolds and Kennedi Williams to put the game away. 

“Our defense just never stopped,” Grooms said. “And I’ve seen us stop before and get down when we are down and we would just say, ‘We are done,’ and they didn’t do that. MaryMartha played big for us tonight on defense, and she is an integral part of it. She doesn’t stop. She’s smart. She’s aggressive and has that winning mentality. Those extra blocks, those extra rebounds, that wins championships. We only won that game because of defense.”

GAC’s Sutton finished with 18 points on 3-of-8 shooting from the floor and 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Reynolds finished the game with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the floor. Turner added 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting. Williams, who only scored four points, was a perfect 2-for-2 late in the game from the free-throw line. Franklin County’s Mya Jones scored a game-high 21 points for the Lady Lions. Teammates Merriett and Bailee Breedlove each added seven points, and Maddie Morehead scored six points.

Johnson-Savannah 43, Tattnall County 33: Johnson-Savannah advanced past Tattnall County in the Class AAA semifinals and will face Greater Atlanta Christian in the championship game at 2 p.m. on Thursday in Macon.

The Lady Atom Smashers jumped out to a 5-0 lead four minutes into the game and held a 9-8 lead after the first quarter. Johnson pushed the lead to 21-12 at the half on the back of J’Mya Cutter’s 10 points. In the second quarter, Johnson stepped up defensively and held Tattnall County to just four points, making a 12-4 run in the quarter and giving it the edge at the break.

There wasn’t much offense in the third quarter, as Johnson outscored Tattnall 7-3 to take a 28-15 lead into the fourth. In the final quarter, Tattnall more than doubled its point total for the game, outscoring Johnson 18-15 in the period, but the game was out of reach. The Lady Atom Smashers will be vying for their first-ever girls basketball state title.

Johnson’s Cutter finished the game with 14 points, and the Lady Atom Smashers were led in scoring by Jasmine Thompson with 16. Alana Boone added eight points. Tattnall County’s Kashay Hankerson led her team with 19 points. Ashley Joyce and Hallia Carl each scored six points for Tattnall.

About the Author

X