MACON - Kareem Sanders grabbed the state championship trophy and hoisted it toward the frenzied Wilkinson County cheering section at the Macon Coliseum. It was the third time in four years that the senior was able to celebrate a state title, the seventh in the history of the storied program.
This one wasn’t pretty. Wilkinson’s 72-64 win over Turner County in the championship game of the Class A Public division was determined until the final seconds of a contest that contained 79 free throws.
“We were more hungry,” said Sanders, who won state as a freshman, junior and senior. “To come back and win it this year says a lot about our program. It means a lot.”
Wilkinson (27-6) was led by Torrico Simmons with 18 points and Sanders with 10 points and six rebounds. Turner County (26-5) got 18 points and eight rebounds from Shaquil Baldwin and 14 points and 14 points and nine rebounds from Antonio Graddic.
“We had to play team ball tonight,” Simmons said. “They played us hard.”
Wilkinson led 62-54 with 2:02 remaining when Turner began to foul in order to force the Warriors to win the game at the line. The strategy began to work. Wilkinson began to miss and Turner crept closer and closer, drawing to within 66-64 with 11.4 seconds left.
Simmons made a free throw to put Wilkinson ahead by three points with 9.9 seconds left, but Turner was unable to launch the tying shot and bobbled the ball out of bounds.
Turner wound up shooting 41 percent from the line (16 of 39) and only 31.5 percent from the floor (23 of 73). Wilkinson made 70 percent of its free throws (28 of 40) to hold off the challenge.
“You’re going to have those ebbs and flows, as long as you make them when you have to,” Wilkinson County coach Aaron Geter Jr. said.
The game wasn’t big on style points. Turner County jumped around on defense and slapped balls away all game, but was never able to mount a consistent attack on offense. Turner forced 16 turnovers, but negated that by committing 16 of its own.
Wilkinson County jumped out to an early 14-6 lead, only to have Turner County score 10 straight to tie the game 14-14 on Antonio Graddic’s basket. But the success was short-lived . Wilkinson went on a 15-2 run and led 29-13 at intermission.
Turner tried to get back in the game on the strength of a 9-2 run to open the third quarter, The Rebels got as close as four points on two occasions, but Wilkinson used a three-point play from Trey Little and a 3-point basket from Quantavious Jones to push the lead back to double-digits at 43-32 and take command.
Wilkinson County (72): Derek Traywick 9, Torrico Simmons 18, Trey Little 9, Antonio Whipple 4, Kareem Sanders 10, Malik Worthen 9, Dashavon Edmond, Quantavious Jones 13, Greg Cousin.
Turner County (64): Shaquil Baldwin 18, Nate Martin 10, Brian Wynn 2, Jackquise Moore, Malik Brown 5, Cederick Legget, Quan Hillmon 8, Quan Williams 2, DeAndre Pierce 3, Keonte Poke, Antonio Gaddic 14, Tamarrion Terry, Mikevion Hall, Iman Holley 2.