The highest-ranked teams in each half of the Class AAAAAA boys and girls basketball brackets lived up to the hype.
No. 1-ranked Hughes and No. 2 Gainesville will meet at 8 p.m. Friday at Georgia Tech for the boys championship. Both teams led their semifinal games comfortably Saturday at West Georgia before pulling away at the end. Hughes is the defending state champion.
The girls final will match No. 1 Lovejoy and No. 3 Harrison at 6 p.m. Friday at Georgia Tech. Both teams are seeking their first state title. Lovejoy eliminated No. 2 Winder-Barrow in the quarterfinals earlier in the week.
Hughes 69, Jonesboro 49: Landers Nolley opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers, providing the spark for an explosive final eight minutes that put the Panthers within one victory of their second consecutive state championship.
Hughes (26-5) led just 43-36 entering the fourth quarter, but Nolley’s 3-pointers started a 13-3 run that gave the Panthers a 56-39 lead and essentially put the game away. The Virginia Tech signee finished with 27 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
“He wasn’t forcing anything,” Hughes coach Rory Welsh said. “He’s been doing a better job of taking what the defense gives him. In the third quarter, they were running double-teams at him and he didn’t get any clean looks, but he made the right reads in terms of passing the ball to his teammates. In the fourth quarter, we were able to run a couple of quick-hitters with him coming off of screens, and he caught them in rhythm and was able to knock them down.”
Tyler Smith provided the exclamation point with three dunks and all 11 of his points in the final five minutes of the game. Tyrel Morgan finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Sixth-ranked Jonesboro (23-9) trailed 15-14 with 5:39 remaining in the first half when Jamari Smith picked up his second foul and went to the bench for the remainder of the half with seven points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots. Nolley followed with two 3-pointers to give the Panthers some breathing room, and Hughes led 30-24 at halftime.
Smith did his best to keep the Cardinals close in the second half, scoring 13 of Jonesboro’s 25 points after halftime. He finished with 20 points, 16 rebounds, three steals and three blocks. Miles Black scored 11 points for the Cardinals.
Hughes went 6-for-12 from 3-point range in the game, including a 4-of-8 effort from Nolley. Jonesboro made just two of 16 attempts from beyond the arc.
Gainesville 102, Heritage-Conyers 86: This one was a little closer than what Gainesville has been used to lately, but the Red Elephants’ winning streak continues.
Rafael Rubel scored 22 points to lead five Gainesville players in double figures, and the Red Elephants (24-6) won their 21st consecutive game to reach the championship game for the first time since 2013.
Gainesville won its first three games in the state tournament by an average of 35.3 points and appeared on its way to another blowout when it opened the game with a 16-3 run and when it led 68-44 with 3:37 remaining in the third quarter. But Heritage (17-9) got back in the game, primarily behind the play of Josh Archer, who scored 20 of his game-high 30 points in the second half.
Heritage, the Region 3 champion but the only unranked team (boys or girls) to reach the semifinals, got within eight points when Archer’s 3-pointer made it 88-80 with 2:52 remaining. That was as close as the Patriots got, as Gainesville finished it off by making its free throws down the stretch.
Xavier Bledson scored 18 points and had 12 rebounds for the Red Elephants. Jarrel Rosser scored 16 points, Jarred Rosser had 13 and Kajuan Hale finished with 10. Trelan Scott scored 14 points for Heritage, and Josh Guilford added 13.
Harrison 68, Douglas County 54: Harrison broke open a close game with a 14-0 run to close the third quarter and went on to eliminate seventh-ranked Douglas County for the second consecutive season.
Harrison (26-4) is returning to the state championship game after losing to Mays in the final last year. The Hoyas beat Douglas County 73-63 in the quarterfinals last season.
Harrison point guard Harper Vick scored 20 points, had eight rebounds and was 10-of-12 from the free-throw line. Sarah Woghiren, the Hoyas’ leading scorer in the state tournament, finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, and Audrey Jordan had 10 points and six rebounds.
Douglas County (24-7) trailed 36-29 at halftime but had closed the gap to 44-41 before the Hoyas went on the decisive run. Mae Williams started it with a three-point play, and Vick finished it with two free throws and a jumper that gave the Hoyas a 58-41 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Tigers never got closer than 14 points in the final eight minutes.
Neither team led by more than seven points in the first half. Vick had five points in a 9-0 run that put Harrison ahead 15-8, but Douglas County scored 10 of the next 11 points for an 18-16 lead. The game was tied 20-20 at the end of the first quarter. Harrison got the lead back to seven points when Vick hit a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
Douglas County’s Amari Robinson, the Region 5 player of the year, scored 21 points and had 11 rebounds.
Lovejoy 70, Northview 42: Genesis Bryant scored Lovejoy’s first eight points and finished with a game-high 18 as the Wildcats (31-1) cruised to a victory over fourth-ranked Northview and advanced to the state championship game for the first time in school history.
Bryant scored all of Lovejoy’s points as it built an 8-3 lead that eventually grew to 13-3. Northview scored the next seven points to cut the lead to 13-10, but the Wildcats pushed it back to 16-10 by the end of the quarter and were in control from there. 24-7
“Gen did a great job for us,” Lovejoy coach Cedric King said. “She’s always in the moment, and we couldn’t be happier with what she’s doing. She got a little frustrated because she had to become a screener because they were playing a box-and-one on her. But she did a great job because she opened up so many lanes.”
Kayla Brown took advantage of the extra space on the court, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Anaya Boyd finished with 11 points and seven assists.
Northview’s Ashlee Austin, the Region 7 player of the year, was hindered with foul trouble throughout the first half. She picked up two fouls in the first quarter and collected her third with 3:34 to play in the half. Northview (24-7) was still within nine points at that point, but in her absence Lovejoy closed the half on a 9-0 run to lead 35-17 and scored the first two points of the third quarter for its first 20-point lead. Northview never got closer than 13 points the rest of the game.
Austin eventually fouled out with 1:07 remaining. She scored all seven of the Titans’ fourth-quarter points and finished with a team-best 17 points and six rebounds.
“I thought we competed well,” King said. “I love Chris [Yarbrough, Northview’s coach] over there, but I think we just have a little more talent.”