Freshman and Senior Duo Carries Shorthanded No. 6 Spartans

No. 6 GAC 75, No. 5 Holy Innocents’ 67 OT

The power struggle for control of Region 6-AA officially began Thursday night as No. 6 GAC (4-3) found a way to knock off host No. 5 Holy Innocents’ (3-2) in overtime, 75-67. The Spartans entered the game on a two-game losing streak, but more importantly, without leading scorer, junior point guard Brian Coffey Jr. and 6-foot-8 center, Charlie O’Briant. With two big pieces out, Garrett Covington and Jacob Hoffman were expected to shoulder the load, but it was a level-headed freshman that made possibly the biggest impact of the game.

To open up the night, both teams traded baskets with Hoffman knocking down a three. The senior would roll an ankle however, soon after and would gingerly walk off with the game tied at 7. While on the bench, Cole Smith of Holy Innocents’ caught fire. He scored nine of the Golden Bears’ 13 points in the first quarter and would score 19 of his game-high 29 points in the first half.

One of Cole Smith's five three-pointers on the night
One of Cole Smith’s five three-pointers on the night

Hoffman returned to action later in the first quarter and finished with eight points on the day. The Spartans trailed 13-11 at the end of one. With Holy Innocents’ committing six first quarter fouls, the Spartans seemed destined to live at the line in quarter two, but the Golden Bears didn’t pick up foul number seven until under two minutes to play in the half. GAC pushed ahead 24-19, but Holy Innocents’ used a 14-4 run capped by a Jules Erving putback dunk and a layup to enter the half leading 33-28.

With Coffey sidelined and Hoffman gimpy, someone needed to step up for the Spartans. That someone was freshman point guard Hunter McIntosh. The cool youngster scored half of GAC’s points in the first half with 14 and finished with a team-high 27.

Smith bombed his fifth three-pointer of the night with 46.3 seconds left in the third quarter to extend Holy Innocents’ lead to 48-41, and would take a six-point 50-44 lead into the final period of play…or so we thought.

The Spartans continued to chip away and stay within striking distance while the Golden Bears tried to push ahead with a student section dressed in tacky Christmas sweaters roaring them on. Coach David Eaton implemented a press at the 7:17 mark of the fourth quarter, trailing by four. While GAC was able to disrupt the Bears offense somewhat, Brent Duncan started to go to work inside. The high-flying big man scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half to try and stave off the Spartan charge, but it was not enough.

As GAC continued to inch closer and closer, the play on the court got wilder and wilder with more and more whistles. Just under the three minute mark, the craziness which got the Spartans officially back in the game and over the hump occurred. Big man Chris Hinton, all 6-foot-5, 240 pounds of him, drew an and-one bucket, but missed the free throw. His miss was kept alive by Covington, resulting in the ball bouncing back to Hinton who laid it in to make it a four-point possession and draw the Spartans within one at 60-59.

Garrett Covington was all over the court
Garrett Covington was all over the court

At the 2:05 mark, Duncan hit Harrison Cobb for a jumper to extend the lead to 62-59.

Covington would answer with a steal and a layup making it a one-point game again with 1:36 remaining. Jules Erving was fouled and sank two free throws to go up 64-61 with 48.5 seconds left in regulation.

Jules Erving impressed me again with his versatility
Jules Erving impressed me again with his versatility

Anthony Carter, who ended up with five points, eight rebounds, two assists and four steals, was fouled with 22.2 seconds left for GAC. Earlier, he had missed a pair of foul shots at the 3:26 mark trailing 58-55. Carter atoned for his misses. He sank his first free throw and missed his second, but for the second time in the fourth quarter, Garrett Covington crashed the offensive glass and batted the ball off the backboard. The ball landed in Carter’s hands, who was following his shot, and he was able to lay it in and tie the game with around 15 seconds to play.

Free throw rebounding was an issue down the stretch for HIES
Free throw rebounding was an issue down the stretch for HIES

Ibrahim Shabazz had a final look from the top of the key as the clock expired coming out of a timeout seen here, but the shot went awry. We were heading to overtime.

In overtime, it was all Spartans. Covington, who finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, drove the lane and kicked out a pass over his head that looked wild. That wild pass was right on the mark hitting Jacob Hoffman, who proceeded to bury the triple. Soon after, Covington drove again and found Basil Peterson for the jumper after Hinton spun baseline against Duncan and powered it up for two more on the previous possession. GAC’s quick 7-0 spurt in overtime proved to be the dagger as the Golden Bears wouldn’t threaten again, giving the shorthanded Spartans a huge 75-67 victory.

My Take: Thursday night basketball is something I can get used to. What a game this was; back and forth the whole way. Every time it looked like either team was going to pull away, the other would respond. To be honest, I had no idea who Hunter McIntosh was before tonight. Now I know. The freshman guard looked as calm and collected as it gets in a hostile environment as he had to take on the lead guard duties with Brian Coffey injured. When I found out he was a freshman, I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t making any crazy plays or flashy moves; he was just solid and knocked down every open shot he had. Garrett Covington showed why he is a Gwinnett Daily Post Super Six selection and did everything out there tonight. In overtime alone he had two assists and a handful of rebounds to close it out. Burly Chris Hinton grinded his way to eight big points and did a good job on Brent Duncan down low. Jacob Hoffman splashed home an early three, but after hurting his ankle, he wasn’t able to be as explosive. He gutted it out and played with a grimace on his face. His big three in overtime gave the Spartans the separation they needed. After the game, Hoffman was seen limping out of the locker room with his shoe off. Hopefully it’s not too serious.

This was my second time seeing Holy Innocents’ play. They have three players that can take over a game any given night as they all showed flashes. Cole Smith might as well be called the baby faced assassin. He doesn’t look like your prototypical go-to player, but his handles are tight and his stroke is as pure as it gets. Duncan had a slow first half but began to carve up GAC inside during the second half. Jules Erving once again impressed me. He scored 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds, collected seven assists, two steals, two blocks and guarded Covington during most of the night. Talk about a busy night. Harrison Cobb played well. He fouled out with 22.2 seconds left in regulation and his calming presence yet intense play was missed in overtime. He finished with eight points, five rebounds and three assists. It will be fun to watch these two teams duke it out again this year as they jockey for position atop Region 6.

Top Performers

Greater Atlanta Christian
Garrett Covington – 23 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals
Hunter McIntosh – 27 points, 3 rebounds
Chris Hinton – 8 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks
Jacob Hoffman – 8 points
Anthony Carter – 5 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals

Holy Innocents’
Cole Smith – 29 points, 2 blocks
Jules Erving – 12 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Brent Duncan – 14 points, 4 rebounds
Harrison Cobb – 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists

Primer: No. 6 GAC (3-3) at No. 5 Holy Innocents’ (3-1)

No. 6 GAC (3-3) at No. 5 Holy Innocents’ (3-1)

This Region 6-AA rivalry features two top ten teams. No. 6 Greater Atlanta Christian has shown flashes of being a region title contender, but a tough schedule and injuries have left the Spartans at 3-3 early in the season. GAC kicked off the year with a 73-61 win against 1A-Private No. 8 Lakeview Academy, 73-61. At the Verizon Hoops for the Cure Classic, Brewbaker Tech (AL) downed the Spartans 64-53. After a pair of wins, they ran into 5A No. 9 Riverwood in the North Forsyth Thanksgiving Tournament championship and lost 51-40. That same Riverwood team handed No. 5 Holy Innocents’ its only loss of the season on opening night, 54-46. GAC enters riding a two-game skid after taking a loss and some injuries to Seneca (SC) on Tuesday, 80-67.

Leading scorer, point guard Brian Coffey Jr. and starting center Charlie O’Briant are both expected to miss tonight’s game. O’Briant suffered a bad laceration to his lip when he took an inadvertent shoulder to the mouth, and Coffey, who has been on crutches the past two days, endured a deep bone bruise to his right knee and bruised a nerve which may keep him sidelined for up to a week. With the injuries, the onus to score will fall heavily on Garrett Covington and Jacob Hoffman’s shoulders. Both players are capable however as Covington averaged 16.5 points and Hoffman 12.1 as juniors. Covington is a Gwinnett Daily Post Super Six selection for the 2015-16 season.

GAC took two of three against the Golden Bears last season, winning 58-49, losing 82-78 and defeating Holy Innocents’ 73-68 in the region tournament.

The Golden Bears opened up their season with a loss against rival Riverwood. Since that game, Brent Duncan has picked up his play and is back to being a handful inside. In a 61-60 win over Duluth at Holiday Hoopsgiving, the 6-foot-7 forward went for 30 points and 10 rebounds including the game-winning free throw with .1 seconds remaining. He, Cole Smith, Ibrahim Shabazz and Jules Erving make up for a nice core, with Harrison Cobb and Richard Surdykowski doing the dirty work. Holy Innocents’ enters on a three-game win streak, defeating Sacred Heart (AL) 64-62 and No. 6 SWAC, 61-46, along the way.

Key Matchup: Jacob Hoffman of GAC and Cole Smith from Holy Innocents’ have the capability to match each other stroke for stroke from beyond the three-point line. Smith scored 13 points when I watched him play Riverwood and has the mentality of a microwave, able to heat up at the flick of a switch. Hoffman also doesn’t shy away from the long ball and has been known for his clutch sniping.

X-Factor: Jules Erving has been tasked with guarding other teams’ best players, getting the call on De’Andre Ballard of SWAC on Tuesday and held him to 17 points. If he gets lined up against Garrett Covington, he will be sure to make him work for every bucket. Erving’s athleticism and size allows him to guard multiple positions.

Mr. Basketball Watch 12-3

Here are a few early front runners for the Mr. Basketball Award. The award usually goes to seniors, though there are deserving juniors that have played well (Wendell Carter Jr., Chuma Okeke, MJ Walker) who could sneak onto some ballots. Below are some averages that were readily available.

Photo By Albany Herald
Photo By Albany Herald

Jordan Harris (Seminole County) – UGA
1 GP – 41 ppg, 9 rpg, 7 apg

Photo by Ty Freeman
Photo by Ty Freeman

Jared Harper (Pebblebrook) – Auburn
5 GP – 28 ppg

IjIeQlYL_400x400Brandon Robinson (Douglas County) – UNC
5 GP – 29.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.6 spg

Photo By Ty Freeman
Photo By Ty Freeman

Alterique Gilbert (Miller Grove) – UConn
4 GP – 18.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 5.25 spg

Kobi-Simmons-Kentucky-CraziesKobi Simmons (St. Francis) – Undecided
4 GP – 28.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.5 apg, 3.0 spg

Photo By HoopSeen
Photo By HoopSeen

Kamar Baldwin (Apalachee) – Butler
3 GP – 27.3 ppg


No. 3 Wheeler Shakes Off Sluggish Start Against Cherokee

6ANo. 3 Wheeler 50, Cherokee 36

Head Coach Roger Kvam, who has directed the Cherokee Warriors for now 13 years, has always given Wheeler fits. After narrow losses to the superior Wildcats last season 51-48, 71-55 and 51-49, this year’s edition of the Warriors looked to get over the hump and thwart powerful No. 3 Wheeler. Cherokee took a 12-5 lead into the second quarter as Wheeler was ice cold. The home standing Warriors took advantage of three three-pointers in the frame to gain the advantage. But as the game wore on, Cherokee’s lack of balance showed and Wheeler’s talent won out. Guard Makhai Eastmond hit Darius Perry on a beautiful backdoor cut early in the second quarter to shake off a lethargic start. The bucket ignited a 17-3 period which gave Wheeler a 22-15 lead at the half.

Kash Jackson and Phillip Cirillo were the only sources of offense for Coach Kvam. The two combined to score all of the team’s points at the half and didn’t receive a third contributor until four minutes left in the third quarter when Jack Carroll sank a three. Cirillo, who led the Warriors with 14 points and nine rebounds, stroked a three and Elisha Mayberry drove for his only points of the game to close out the third quarter and keep the Warriors within striking distance down 33-26.

Coach Kvam readies his Warriors. Phillip Cirillo (3) played well.
Coach Kvam readies his Warriors. Phillip Cirillo (3) played well.

In the second half and four quarter, Wheeler finally started chipping away at the overmatched Warriors. Al-Wajid Aminu was held scoreless in the first half but provided the Wildcats with an energetic spark. The North Florida signee finished with six points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks and helped the Cats collect nine steals on the night off their trapping press. Aminu’s second chance rebounds and emphatic blocks helped wake up the rest of the Wildcats. After a slow start, Romello White began to eat away at the smaller Cherokee front line. The Georgia Tech signee ended his night with 14 points and 10 rebounds coupled by a few big dunks. Defensively, he swatted away four of Wheeler’s nine blocks as they cruised to the finish line using a 17-to-10 fourth quarter to pull away.

My Take: Wheeler did not impress early on and still didn’t play up to the level that they are capable of. Sometimes, and especially when playing a fundamentally sound team like Cherokee who doesn’t kill themselves with too many mistakes, the Cats play to the level of their competition. A 76-70 loss to the nation’s No. 1 ranked team, Montverde (FL) according to MaxPreps, doesn’t make sense when they struggled to beat Cherokee. Romello White showed some flashes inside, but it was Al-Wajid Aminu’s energy and Darius Perry’s quiet, yet steady play, that finally woke the team up. Perry went on a personal 5-0 run in the second quarter to get the Wildcats back into the game after an early deficit. The second half belonged to Aminu. His length and motor wore down Cherokee. The Warriors remain led by the best boys coach Cherokee County has seen in a long time. Coach Kvam doesn’t always have the talent, but he makes the most out of it, constantly beating good teams (3A No. 3 Morgan County, 57-52) or at least playing them heads-up (SWD 64-56). It’s scary to think what he could do with a couple horses like he had back in the day with Chris Singleton. It’s a shame he transferred to Dunwoody his final season. Cherokee will go as far as Phillip Cirillo and Kash Jackson take them this season.  Jackson is the only senior on the team which breeds optimism for the future. Cirillo has exploded onto the scene as a junior and is receiving some D-1 looks after a strong offseason. Playing such a big role as a junior will only help his progression towards his senior season. He looks to have a similar success like Michael Kvam did circa 2009-10 as a big guard who could score, facilitate, rebound and lead.

Top Performers:

Romello White – 14 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks
Cam Jordan – 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Darius Perry – 8 points, 3 assists, 2 steals
Al-Wajid Aminu – 6 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks

Phillip Cirillo – 14 points, 9 rebounds
Kash Jackson – 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Jack Carroll – 7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals

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