Top-ranked Lovejoy broke open a close game with a 12-0 run to start the fourth quarter and went on to beat No. 3 Harrison 57-41 in the Class AAAAAA girls basketball championship game Friday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion.
The state title is the first in program history for Lovejoy (32-1), which had not advanced beyond the second round until reaching the semifinals last year, when it lost to eventual champion Mays. Harrison (26-5) lost in the final for the second consecutive season.
Lovejoy trailed 36-34 entering the fourth quarter, but layups on consecutive possessions by Avanna Preston and J’Aunna Preston put the Wildcats ahead for good with 6:51 remaining. The Wildcats added eight more points to the lead before Harper Vick got Harrison’s first points of the quarter with 3:30 to play to make it a 46-38 game. The Hoyas got no closer than seven the rest of the way. Lovejoy outscored Harrison 23-5 in the final eight minutes.
“I thought we played like youngsters at the beginning, in the first two quarters,” Lovejoy coach Cedric King said. “In the second half, they just composed themselves, took control and did what we do. They trusted their preparation and just kept on. I knew from the film study that the fourth quarter has been a struggle for [Harrison] because of their lack of depth as well, so we felt if we could just keep battling, keep battling and keep fighting then we’d get some good results.”
It was a game in which some of big names struggled for long stretches, and it was filled with turnovers, fouls and missed shots. The teams combined for 33 turnovers (17 by Harrison), 38 personal fouls (21 by Harrison) and just 34 made field goals (17 each). Lovejoy shot 40.5 percent from the field, which was a big improvement from the first half, when they made just five of 18 attempts, including a 1-for-8 second quarter. The Wildcats were 7-for-11 in the pivotal fourth quarter.
Harrison shot 38.6 percent from the field but made just two of 10 attempts in the fourth quarter.
Lovejoy star sophomores Genesis Bryant and Anaya Boyd came alive in the second half after scoring a combined eight points in the first. Bryant, Lovejoy’s leading scorer and the Region 4 co-player of the year, had eight points in the third quarter, in which each team scored 17 after Harrison led 19-17 at halftime. Boyd had just five points in the first half but gave the Wildcats their first 10-point lead with a jumper midway through the fourth quarter and had nine points in the quarter. They finished as the game’s two leading scorers, Boyd with 20 points and Bryant with 14.
Despite the early struggles by their leaders, Avanna Preston, J’Aunna Preston and Kayla Brown helped the Wildcats stay close throughout, combining for 23 points and 18 rebounds, including 13 by Brown.
Harrison’s all-Region 6 players Audrey Jordan, Vick and Sarah Woghiren were held to a combined 22 points. Jordan was plagued by foul trouble, picking up three in the first half and her fourth with 5:09 remaining in the third quarter. Vick was the Hoyas’ leading scorer with 10 points, all of which came after halftime.
“I thought there were nerves for both teams, although they had a little more senior leadership in the beginning,” King said. “I think the turnovers, just playing in this moment, in this type game, the nerves were just overwhelming. I whispered to them at halftime because I just wanted them to calm down and play their game. And it paid off a little bit.”
Lovejoy (57): Genesis Bryant 14, Anaya Boyd 20, Avanna Preston 8, J’Aunna Preston 7, Kayla Brown 8, Lashanti Blunt, Mariah Spain, Asha Shareef, Kaziah Terrell.
Harrison (41): Harper Vick 10, Eastyn King 6, Mae Williams 5, Sarah Woghiren 8, Audrey Jordan 4, Meredith Ward 2, Amara Newsom 6, Edith Gordon.