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GHSA State Championship Recaps

March 7 – Macon Centreplex

Class AA

Laney Wildcats basketball

(G) R4 #1 Laney 63, R4 #2 Josey 40 The Wildcats ripped off a 12-0 run after trailing 16-15 to find the cushion they needed to blow past Josey for a fifth time this season and win their second-straight state title and 62nd game in-a-row. Alabama-signee De’sha Benjamin was unstoppable with 19 of her game-high 26 points in the first half when it mattered most. She finished with 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Laney led 29-20 at the half, holding the Eagles to 22.7% shooting. Jhessyka Williams tacked on 19 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Jaiden Hamilton tallied 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists as the third head of the Wildcat attack. Josey finished just 29.5% from the field and 3-of-14 from deep. Tykedra Rolland (10) and Rhykeria Rolland (7) were held to 17 points total. Ebony Clark led the Eagles with 12 points and 7 rebounds.

Thomasville Bulldogs basketball

(B) R1 #1 Thomasville 66, R2 #3 Vidalia 31 It was a blood bath from the opening tip as the bigger and more athletic Bulldogs ran wild with a 13-0 start. Sloppy Indian ball-handling led to turnovers while lazy transition defense accounted for six Bulldog first half dunks. The Indians shot 4-of-24 from the field (16.7%) and 1-of-14 from deep in the opening half as the Bulldogs led 41-10 at the break. McDonald’s All-American and Mississippi State-bound forward Reggie Perry finished with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks. Vonterius Woolbright added 17 points, 7 assists and 3 rebounds. Titus Wright had 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. Vidalia was led by Tahj Jones’ 10 points. The Indians finished 2-of-25 from three. Thomasville outscored Vidalia 40-20 in the paint and had 22 points off turnovers.

Class A-Public

Greenville Lady Patriots basketball

(G#4 Greenville 73, #3 Marion County 52:  While Marion County came out double-teaming reigning Class A-Public Player of the Year and Mississippi State-signee Brittany Davis, the rest of the Lady Patriots picked up the slack, helping Greenville grab a 21-10 first quarter lead and building it to 43-26 at the break. Davis finished with 30 points (5-20 FG; 19-20 FT) 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 1 block in her final game. Freshmen Shabrica Leslie and Jabrika Leslie came up big, Shabrica posting 14 points and 5 rebounds while Jabrika had 12 points. Nuriyah Slaton finished with 8 points, 16 rebounds and 5 steals. The Lady Patriots grabbed 24 offensive rebounds and put up 26 second-chance points. Greenville out-rebounded the bigger Eagles 54-46. Marion County was led by Torriunna Myers’ 15 points. Jameisha Williams chipped in 8 points. Ashley Whitley battled for 7 points, 18 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks.

Wilkinson County Warriors basketball

(B) #3 Wilkinson County 71, #5 Montgomery County 68: The Blue Storm took over the Macon Centreplex again, as the Warriors completed the three-peat, captured their 10th state title in school history and their sixth in the last eight years. Wilkinson County survived a gutsy performance from senior wing Jahleel Wilson who nearly willed the Eagles past the Warriors who are now 10-0 in state title games. Wilson had 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 blocks as he carried the Eagles. Daveaun Coglin finished with 19 points but shot 7-of-24 from the field while Shaw Robinson, who scored 22 in the Final 4, finished 2-of-11 from the field with 5 points. Wilkinson County showed they could play a fast pace game, running up and down with the Eagles in the first quarter, taking a 21-18 lead after one. The two teams entered the half tied at 38. 6-foot-6 senior center Tylan Grable came off the bench to give Wilkinson County 11 points and 14 rebounds. Montgomery County fell behind 62-54 at the 2:44 mark of the fourth quarter but Wilson powered the team back into it, getting help from Daquan Jackson who netted two late hoops. Robinson came away with a steal and a layup to cut the lead to 67-66 with 29.2 seconds left. Having to foul, the Eagles sent Raequan Smith and Brandon Mayes to the line, who went 4-for-4. With 10.7 seconds left, Coach Christopher Owens drew up a three-point look for Robinson, who struggled all night. The guard that averaged 19 points per game on the season, shot an air-ball, sealing the Eagles’ fate. Wilkinson County was paced by Jaylen Lamar’s efficient night, shooting 9-of-14 from the field for 22 points. Devin Jones chipped in 12 points and 4 assists in the win. Montgomery County out-shot the Warriors 72-to-50, but Wilkinson County sank 50% of their shots while Montgomery connected at a 36.1% clip and just 3-of-18 from three.

March 8 – Macon Centreplex

Class AAA

Johnson Atomsmashers girls basketball

(GR3 #2 Johnson-Savannah 62, R7 #1 GAC 50: The Atomsmashers atoned for last year’s state title game flop by locking down the paint and shutting down a potent GAC offense with three D-I commits. 6-foot-5 senior Giana Copeland swatted 7 shots in the first 6-plus minutes of the game and finished with 3 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks total.  GAC shot 1-of-15 in the first quarter and just 22.1% for the entire game.  Down 52-39 in the fourth quarter with 2:27 left, the Spartans finally made their move, sparking a 9-1 run to close to within 53-48 with 1:27 left. But from that point on, Bubbles Williams, J’Mya Cutter and Jasmine Thompson combined to go 9-of-10 from the line to ice it. Cutter finished with 19 points and 6 rebounds while Thompson added 13 points and 8 rebounds. Williams finished her career with 12 points and 4 assists. Caria Reynolds (Hofstra) led GAC with 13 points and 11 rebounds on 3-of-15 shooting. Taylor Sutton (MTSU) scored 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting and Wofford-bound forward Mary Martha Turner had 6 points and 18 rebounds. Kennedi Williams gave the Spartans a spark at guard with 10 points and 7 assists.

Greater Atlanta Christian basketball

(B) R7 #1 GAC 67, R3 #2 Jenkins 53: The Spartans turned a 25-20 halftime deficit into a state title under alumnus David Eaton. Ben Sheppard keyed a 24-point third quarter by sinking two of the Spartans’ four trifectas in the frame. Sheppard scored 8 of his 15 points in the quarter as the Spartans edged ahead with a 44-38 lead and would never trail again, bouncing back from a 15-1 run that gave Jenkins the lead at the half. Hunter McIntosh iced the game from the line in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of his game-high 19 points in the final eight minutes including finishing 14-of-19 from the stripe. Michigan football-commit Chris Hinton piled in 12 of his 16 points in the second half and collected 4 rebounds and 4 assists in the process. Roy Dixon scored 13 points to help the cause. Jenkins was led by Sai Fisher’s 12 points and Mye’on Williams’ 11 points and 6 rebounds. Matthew Sams netted 10.


Buford Lady Wolves basketball

(G) R8 #1 Buford 60, R8 #2 Flowery Branch 49: Buford defeated Flowery Branch for the fourth time this season and seventh in the past two years as the Lady Wolves repeated as state champs and won their sixth title in school-history. Buford held Flowery Branch under the magic number of 50 — all three of the Wolves’ losses this season coming when they allowed over the half century mark. Michigan State-signee Tory Ozment poured in 15 of her game-high 28 points in the first half to go along with her 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Ebony Grant added 12 points. Flowery Branch was paced Alabama-signee Taniyah Worth who finished her career with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists before fouling out with 1:11 remaining down 60-48.  Caroline Wysocki struggled from the field going 1-of-7 to finish with 10 points.

Warner Robins Demons basketball

(B) R1 #1 Warner Robins 67, R5 #3 Miller Grove 64: In a tug-of-war game to finish a less than competitive week back at the Macon Centreplex, Jacolbey Owens drilled a three with 1.3 seconds left to give Warner Robins their first-ever state championship. Miller Grove got off to a hot start, up 15-6 in the first quarter behind eight quick Lorenzo Anderson points. At the end of one, the Wolverines held a 15-10 lead and kept Georgia State-commit Nelson Phillips scoreless. Phillips scored his first basket at the 5:31 mark with the Demons down 19-14 in the second quarter. At the half, Miller Grove maintained a slim 31-29 lead. While Phillips was 3-of-8 from the field, Jacolbey Owens led the charge with nine points but shot just 3-of-7 from the line. In the third quarter, Phillips flew in from the left baseline corner to throw down a one-handed put-back jam to push the Demon lead to 39-35. A Jaydon Norman layup capped a 12-2 run for Warner Robins, giving them a 43-35 lead at the 2:44 mark. The Demons carried a 51-44 advantage into the final frame, but Miller Grove would not go away. After a quiet third quarter, Anderson scored 8 of his team-high 19 points in the fourth. With 2:33 left on the clock, the Wolverines caught up to the Demons at 60-60. Owens was sent to the line where he was 3-of-10 at the time and as a team, Warner Robins was 18-of-32 at that point. Owens sank both free throws and did the same at the 1:54 mark to make it 64-60. The Demons finished 22-of-36 from the line (61.1%) while the Wolverines didn’t fare much better at 66.7% (16-of-24). Down four, Anderson got to the line and converted both attempts. Less than a minute late, Maurice Harvey, who finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals, did the same, knotting the game up at 64 with 51 seconds remaining. The Demons held for one shot. Instead of getting the ball in the hands of star Nelson Phillips, who finished 6-of-15 for 16 points and 10 rebounds, Coach Jamaal Garman saw Owens control their destiny. Owens went to his left, pump faked, and sailed a three over the outstretched arm of TJ Stargell, drilling it — Warner Robins’ only made three of the game (1-for-11) — sending the crowd into a frenzy. Warner Robins went out to celebrate, but the Wolverines got a second chance at life, as the referees added 1.3 seconds back on the clock. Miller Grove’s final inbound heave was fumbled away, giving the Demons a state championship just 21 miles away from home. Owens finished with 24 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Jaydon Norman added 13 points and 5 rebounds. The Demons collected 18 points off turnovers and out-rebounded the larger Wolverines 43-to-36, grabbing 22 offensive rebounds. Miller Grove received 11 points from Terrence Edwards and 7 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists from TJ Stargell.

March 9 – McCamish Pavilion

Class A-Private

Wesleyan Lady Wolves basketball

(G#6 Wesleyan 61, #1 Holy Innocents’ 44  After beating the Wolves three times in the regular season, Holy Innocents’ kryptonite rared its ugly head again on the biggest stage. After blowing a 17-point lead last year in the title game, this time the Golden Bears trailed through out and lost to Wesleyan for the third time in the past four state championships. The Wolves’ repeat was led by Furman-signee Sutton West’s 17 points and 8 rebounds. AC Carter had 14 points and 11 rebounds. Old Dominion-signee Amaya Register scored 12 points and freshman Paige Lyons added 10 points and 6 rebounds. UGA-signee Kaila Hubbard finished her Holy Innocents’ career with 18 points and 4 rebounds.  Jada Farrell  had 13 points and 9 rebounds while freshman Jillian Hollingshead tallied 5 points, 16 rebounds and 3 blocks. Kennedy Suttle, a Penn-signee that had 16 points and 13 rebounds in last year’s final, was held to 4 points and 7 rebounds. As a team, the Golden Bears shot a woeful 27.1% from the field.

(B) #6 Aquinas 65, #4 St. Francis 60: St. Francis missed three three-pointers in the final 33 seconds as Aquinas won their first-ever state title. The Knights led 33-26 at the half, weathering a 12-to-4 foul count and a 13-of-15 free throw shooting effort, but in the third quarter, the game came to a screeching halt. The Irish outscored St. Francis 25-to-9 in the third as both Tre Gomillion and Trent Bowdre scored 8 apiece in the quarter. As a team, the Irish connected on 10-of-12 field goals in the third after shooting 6-of-19 in the first half. Aquinas controlled a 51-42 lead heading into the fourth. Dwon Odom scored nine of his game-high 22 points in the quarter. At the 6:47 mark of the fourth quarter, the Irish held a 55-48 lead. The Knights fought back and cut the deficit to 61-60 after Odom collected a steal and drained a three-pointer in transition with 48.7 remaining. The Knights had Daniel Parrish trapped in the corner on the press, but were called for a foul that sent the South Carolina move-in to the line. Parrish missed the front-end of the one-and-one, giving the Knights one last look with 8.9 seconds showing on the clock. Coach Drew Catlett designed a misdirection play that found CJ Riley open in the corner for a good look, but his three-pointer was off and Parrish secured the rebound, knocked down both free throws and clinched the title. As a team, the Irish went 24-of-27 from the line. St. Francis opened up 15-7 in the first quarter going 4-of-9 from deep, but finished just 6-of-26 for the game. Gomillion led Aquinas with 16 points and 14 rebounds after having just four points at the half. Dajuan Hill added 15 points and 5 rebounds while Parrish (14) and Bowdre (10) each hit double figures. Riley finished with 18 points and 4 assists for the Knights. Chase Ellis was quiet with 10 points.


Lovejoy Lady Wildcats basketball

(G) R4 #1 Lovejoy 57, R6 #1 Harrison 41: Lovejoy used a 12-0 run to start the fourth quarter, outscoring the Lady Hoyas 23-to-5 to gain control and win their first-ever state title. After being held to 1-point in the first half, Genesis Bryant scored nine in the third quarter to spark the Wildcats, but Lovejoy still trailed 36-34. In the fourth quarter, it was fellow sophomore Anaya Boyd’s turn to carry the load. Boyd finished with 20 points and 5 rebounds, scoring nine in the fourth quarter. Bryant finished with 14 points. Avanna Preston scored 8 points while Kayla Brown collected 8 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks. The Wildcats cut down on their turnovers after committing 12 in the first half and finished with 16 on the night. Harrison turned it over 17 times, seven times in the second half. The Lady Hoyas were led by GCSU-signee Harper Vick’s 10 points and 4 assists. Sarah Woghiren had 8 points and 7 rebounds. Eastyn King and Amara Newsom each had 6 points. UAB-signee Audrey Jordan fouled out and was held to just three shot attempts, finishing with 4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.

Langston Hughes Panthers Basketball

(B) R5 #1 Langston Hughes 85, R8 #1 Gainesville 78: In front of alumnus Deshaun Watson, Gainesville led by as many as 14 points at 42-28 at the 2:05 mark of the second quarter and carried a 45-38 lead into the half, but the Panthers of Langston Hughes would not be denied, as Coach Rory Welsh and company repeated as state champs. Saddled with foul trouble the entire game, the Red Elephants were able to control the tempo and slice up the Panthers defense in the first half. Kajuan Hale scored 13 of his 15 points in the half while Gainesville made Virginia Tech-signee Landers Nolley work for everything he got, scoring 16 points but also facilitating with five assists. Down seven points, Langston Hughes needed players other than Nolley to step up. Tyrel Morgan scored eight of his 14 points in the first half to provide support, but Tyler Smith was quiet with just three points and two rebounds.  Following a dormant opening 16 minutes, Smith brought a spark, scoring eight points in the third as the Panthers surged past Gainesville to take a 65-59 lead into the fourth. Gainesville’s final lead of the game came at the 2:16 mark of the third quarter up 57-56.  Middle Tennessee State-signee KJ Buffen scored all 13 of his points in the first half but sat in the second with foul trouble, only managing to take two shots in the second half. Not tested since their 83-81 comeback win at Buford on January 20, the Red Elephants faced adversity for the first time in a long time.  At the 1:47 mark of the fourth, Langston Hughes captured their largest lead of the game at 78-67 after a Tyler Smith And-1 and a technical foul on Brent Kelly that gave Nolley a pair of freebies. Instead of rolling over, the Red Elephants fought back in Coach Benjie Wood’s final game on the Gainesville sidelines. Bailey Minor completed a 4-point play, Hale split a pair of free throws and Rafael Rubel finished a layup to make it 78-74 with 1:13 remaining in the blink of an eye. Rubel would then add a three to make it 80-77 with 48 seconds to play, but that would be as close as the Red Elephants would get as Langston Hughes went 8-of-9 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. Nolley finished his illustrious career with three state titles — two in Georgia and three in a row including a sophomore championship campaign at Curie, IL. The future Hokie poured in 34 points (17-of-20 FT), 10 rebounds and 6 assists. Smith added 17 points. Gainesville was led by Minor’s 17 points. Rubel chipped in 12 points.

March 10 – McCamish Pavilion

Class AAAA

Spalding Lady Jaguars basketball

(GR2 #1 Spalding 58, R4 #1 Henry County 46: Sophomore forward Corriana Evans exploded for 19 points and 17 rebounds as the Jaguars raced past Henry County. Kirah Milner scored 9 points and Kiana Banks added 8 points and 9 rebounds. In the loss, Auburn-signee Brooke Moore had 21 points. Amaiya Jackson tallied 10 points and 8 rebounds. As a team, the War Hawks shot 6-of-29 from deep and 26.8% overall.

Upson-Lee basketball

B) R2 #1 Upson-Lee 70, R8 #1 St. Pius X 54: 63-straight. The Knights repeated as state champions, racing past the Golden Lions in the second half after trailing 33-32 at the break. With JaCorey Smith suspended, junior guard Jarrett Adderton stepped up. In his first showdown with the Golden Lions after transferring in from Florida in the off-season, the 6-foot-2 sparkplug provided the Knights with 16 points (7-11 FG) — 10 in the first half — 5 rebounds and 5 assists. St. Pius held their largest lead of the night at 33-25 after back-to-back Everett Lane threes with 1:04 left in the second quarter, but the Knights closed on a 7-0 run, capped by an Adderton block which led to a Tye Fagan layup with two seconds left. The Golden Lions drilled 5-of-14 threes in the first half and got eight points from Troy Stephens. But in the second half, the Knights slammed the door shut, St. Pius going 1-of-9. With the deep ball not dropping, the Golden Lions still harassed the Knights and trailed 44-40 with 1:19 left in the third before a Fagan layup and an Adderton jumper pushed the lead to 48-42 heading into the final quarter. In the fourth, the Knights ran wild as the Golden Lions’ tank was on E. A 14-2 run saw contributions from everyone, growing the lead to 64-47 with 2:49 showing on the clock. Fagan, a MTSU-commit, finished his high school career with 21 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks. Travon Walker helped the Knights dominate the paint for a second-consecutive time against the Lions, collecting 11 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks as the Knights out-rebounded St. Pius 43-to-28, blocked 11 shots and outscored St. Pius 40-28 in the paint. Zyrice Scott netted 14 points to go with his 4 rebounds and 5 assists. The X-factor in last year’s game, Everett Lane, finished with 11 points to pace the Golden Lions. Cameron Traylor drew the defensive duties and helped keep Lane in check as he took his first shot attempt at the 6:46 mark of the second quarter. Matt Gonzalo had 8 points and 4 assists while Zach Ranson added 9 points. The Golden Lions scored 19 points off 18 Upson-Lee turnovers. The Knights now await a call from the GEICO Nationals.


Westlake Lady Lions basketball

(GR2 #1 Westlake 60, R8 #1 Newton 45: Westlake led 39-32 at the end of three and pulled away late to claim their first state title. Anastasia Warren poured in 22 points while freshman Raven Johnson had 15 points and 11 rebounds including grabbing her own missed free throw and finishing a bucket inside to put the game out of reach at 50-41 with 1:13 remaining. Taylor Hosendove added 10 points and 6 rebounds. Newton was powered by Jurnee Smith’s 25 points and 6 rebounds. Lexii Chatman added 13 points and 7 rebounds.

Meadowcreek Mustangs basketball

(B) R7 #2 Meadowcreek 56, R7 #1 Norcross 43: For a second straight season, Norcross entered the state title game with momentum and labeled a slight favorite, but again it wasn’t in the cards. After beating Meadowcreek  three times this season, twice on buzzer-beaters, the Blue Devil magic ran out as the Mustangs used a 13-1 run to open the fourth quarter and squeeze Norcross into submission, capturing their first-ever state championship. Dequarius Nicholas scored 10 of his game-high 16 points in the fourth quarter, going 5-of-6 from the foul line. Brandon Boston fouled out at the 6:10 mark with Meadowcreek up 38-37. With Boston’s 13 points on the bench, the Mustangs outscored Norcross 18-6 the rest of the way. Kyle Sturdivant finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds, but his late-game heroics never came into play. Meadowcreek pounded the interior all night, outscoring the Blue Devils in the paint 30-to-16. Duquesne-signee Amari Kelly posted 12 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks while Detroit-signee Cory Hightower put up 6 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Meadowcreek closed out the game with a bang at the 1:55 mark as freshman Kedrick Green delivered a behind-the-back pass to Jamir Chaplin for a big slam to make it 46-37.

Chaplin finished with 13 points and 5 rebounds while Green added 5 points. Meadowcreek tallied 12 assists on the night compared to just two for the Blue Devils. As a team, Norcross was held to 31% shooting. UGA-signee JoJo Toppin had 8 points and 7 rebounds while Issa Muhammad managed 4 points and 4 rebounds. Norcross shot 1-of-14 from three.

Johns Creek Girls Team Camp

By Bre Singleton (@bre_singleton)

Johns Creek hosted a camp Wednesday afternoon in which seven other teams including Buford, Northview, Alpharetta, and Lambert all participated. The camp was strictly held for the purpose of getting reps according to Johns Creek Head Coach Kirk Call. For that reason, scores were not kept and the scrimmages consisted of each team getting 10-minute segments of offense, half-court only.

In my most anticipated matchup of the afternoon, the Buford Wolves and Northview Titans were pitted against each other in a battle of 27+ win teams. The two juggernauts definitely came to play. Northview started with their 10-minute offensive stint first. The Titans had it going early, executing effectively and getting quality possessions. The starting five has a tangible chemistry about them that is a joy to watch. The group is led by senior guard Megan Cistulli, who showed proved to be the vocal presence on the court.

Ashlee Austin

Northview has a solid tandem of 2019 prospects on their hands as well. Ashlee Austin, fresh off her first D1 offer from Ole Miss, shot the ball especially well from deep on Wednesday. Offensive rebounds were there for the 6’1 PF as well as she looks to build on her game.

Maya Richards

Maya Richards, Austin’s fellow junior post presence, also had a strong outing. Richards, the bigger and stronger of the two, had her way with just about anyone in her vicinity. A killer drop step got her to the bucket more times than not.

Rounding out the Titan starting five were Asjah Inniss, an aggressive PG who had about as many assists and as she had threes (and she hit several). Another young guard, Eden Sample, found her stroke from deep as well.

Buford was without its star player Tory Ozment who was out for precautionary reasons, but Coach Gene Durden wasn’t worried about her absence at all. Said Durden, “We know what Tory can do…we want to see about some of the others.”

The others certainly showed what they were made of against a very solid Northview team. A player that I was personally impressed with was young Tate Walters, the Wolves’ sophomore point guard. For the most part, Buford ran a drive and kick offense and on several occasions, Coach Durden had them spread the floor so that Walters could go to work. She did just that, and on several defenders. Her ability to break down defenders and get to the cup was phenomenal. At 5’7” Walters has the vision to see open teammates who drop to the block after she penetrates. It’ll be exciting to see how she progresses in the Buford girls basketball program.

Rising senior Jessica Nelson had the task of guarding Northview’s talented post players. She put as much presence on them as they put on her. Nelson arguably had the best post moves I saw all day.

The Lambert Longhorns looked good coming off of a 26-3 season. The Longhorns were one of the few teams to get up and down the court in their scrimmage with Northview. Senior posts Sidney Chase and Jaleah Greene were a fun duo to watch take on the Northview Titans. M.E. Craven, a long SF, had quite a few nice finishes at the rim to help the Longhorns’ scoring.

Coach David Walden of Alpharetta and Coach Amanda Heil of North Gwinnett brought their respective teams to Johns Creek for some summer work. Both fairly young teams got up and down the floor in hopes of getting some good reps. Coach Heil is entering her first year as the head coach of the Bulldogs, replacing Bryan Sellers who she had previously been an assistant coach for.

Donell Nixon & No. 1 Buford sink No. 3 Cedar Shoals

No. 1 Buford 72, No. 3 Cedar Shoals 66

Coming off of a 59-54 overtime loss at Duluth, two-time defending Region 8 champion No. 3 Cedar Shoals was looking to get back on track. Standing in their way was new Region member, No. 1 Buford who suited up for the first time as the top ranked team in Class AAAAA.

Over the next 32 minutes, the two state powers traded blows until Buford came away victorious after a late mental error by the Jaguars.

A fast pace opened up the action as Alex Jones pushed the Wolves offense down the floor finding open men. He made sure to get powerful forward Marcus Watson in the mix early on, but Charleston Southern-signee Phlan Fleming lifted the Jags in the first quarter, gliding to the basket for six points.

Buford held a 16-11 lead after David Viti worked the glass for an And-1 and helped the Wolves finish the first quarter with a 20-15 lead.

In the second quarter starting point guard Jai’Vanni McDavid and reserve Damarrea Lowe got loose. The two sliced and diced, Lowe scoring all six of his points in the frame and McDavid netting eight of his 14 in the frame for Cedar Shoals.

As the two teams went back and forth, the one constant all night for Buford was Watson. The strong 6-foot-6 forward attacked the basket and punished the slighter of build Jaguars trying to defend him. He posted 12 points and seven rebounds in the first half and finished the game with 25 points and 13 boards.

The heavyweights entered the half deadlocked at 31, but Cedar Shoals had reason for optimism as key pieces Stavion Stevenson, AJ Jones and Snipe Hall combined for just seven points in the opening 16 minutes.

Before the Jaguars could get their footing, Jones hit Donell Nixon for the third of his six threes to open up the third quarter. Nixon, standing only 5-foot-8 on a good day, peppered Cedar Shoals from beyond the arc the entire game, the Jags losing sight of the little man as he floated on the perimeter dropping in 18 of his game-high 26 points in the second half.

Hall began to heat up for the Jaguars after a quiet first half and scored five straight to tie the game at 36, but in the blink of an eye Buford poured in a 12-0 run to take a commanding 53-40 lead, the spurt keyed by a Jones assist to Viti and then Jones and Nixon trading triples.

Up 13, Watson grabbed a rebound and tried to ignite a fast break but threw an errant pass into the chest of Stevenson who laid up an easy hoop, sparking a Jaguar run of their own. Cedar Shoals closed the third quarter on a 7-0 surge and entered the fourth quarter down 53-47.

The Jaguars ripped off 10 straight points to close to within three and eventually took the lead 60-57 as Hall and McDavid attacked Buford’s smaller guards. The 20-4 run had the home crowd in a frenzy as the Jaguars forced turnovers and picked up the tempo.

After Viti split a pair of free throws, the Jaguars somehow left Nixon open for another three, the Wolves regaining a 61-60 lead with 3:53 to play. Fifty-seven seconds later, Watson grabbed a miss and led the break, passing up to Jones. Jones took one dribble before dumping the ball off to Watson for a slam on a 2-on-1 fast break, one of Jones’ dazzling 12 assists on the night making it 63-60.

Hall answered however with an And-1 tying the game at 63 with 1:58 remaining, three of his 14 second half points. Just over 30 seconds later, it was Nixon again supplying a dagger from deep to give Buford a 66-63 lead.

The Jags were able to get a stop and raced down the court for a chance to either tie or cut it to one, but Bobby Miller came out of nowhere to poke the ball away from behind to give possession back to the Wolves.

Having to foul, Cedar Shoals sent Nixon to the line where he sank two attempts to go up five. With time ticking down, AJ Jones put on an array of moves in the corner to get free and splashed a step-back three to breathe life into the Jaguars, cutting the lead to 68-66 with 21.2 seconds left.

Nixon was sent to the line for a 1-and-1, but inexplicably as he attempted his first free throw, the Jaguars had six men on the floor, resulting in a technical foul. Nixon was awarded with four free throws and buried them all as he went 6-for-6 from the line in the fourth quarter and as a team the Wolves finished the game 18-of-22 from the stripe, clinching a wild Region 8 road victory.

My Take

No. 1 vs. No. 3 lived up to the hype albeit a sour ending to the game. Alex Jones was masterful at point guard for the Wolves. Pound-for-pound he is one of the best point guards in the state and I can fully endorse he is the best passer I’ve seen in the state of Georgia over the past two seasons, ranking in the top echelon with Will Washington formerly of McIntosh. Close to the group is also Xavier Bledson of Gainesville. Jones’ court vision is elite. He can drop dimes on the best defenses in the state. Donell Nixon was absolutely lights out from deep. Cedar Shoals had to hold their breath whenever he attempted a shot from beyond the arc. He may have missed one or two tops. Nixon was simply automatic when left open and had ice water in his veins at the line in the fourth.  Of course possibly the most important due to his X-factor ability, is Marcus Watson who moved in from North Carolina. He is a physical presence attacking the hoop but also showed the willingness to attempt threes, hitting one. As exciting as his two-handed flushes were, I was most impressed by the forward’s free throw shooting. He went a perfect 8-of-8 from the line. He has D-I written all over him. He and Nixon are just sophomores. Scary. Even scarier? David Viti and Jones are still juniors and senior Sahil Patel isn’t even playing due to a knee injury. And by the way, the biggest play of the game bar none? Bobby Miller’s chase down steal on the fast break. That was HUGE.

Cedar Shoals could have laid over and died when Buford stunned them with a lightning quick 12-0 run, but the heart of a winner can’t be taken for granted. The Jaguars are some junkyard dogs that don’t fold when games get tough. Last year it was Jerrick Mitchell powering the offense at the point and now this year it was Jai’Vanni McDavid, a junior, that did it all for Coach L’Dreco Thomas. The Jags don’t have the D-I sex appeal that other programs have, but their players play hard. McDavid finished with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals. Damarrea Lowe, who I loved at the Miller Grove Shot Clock League, gave the Jaguars a spark in the second quarter and is an exceptional guard off the bench that could start for most teams. AJ Jones and Snipe Hall were quiet in the first half but loud in the second. Jones scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth while Hall carried the group throughout the final 16 minutes. Phlan Fleming got off to a quick start, looking smooth getting to the cup but then faded off until he hit a big three late in the third quarter. Stavion Stevenson had a quiet night inside with just four points. The Jags are yet to hit their stride but have all the pieces in place to make another run to the Final Four. Region 8 will be a dog fight between the two statewide powers.

Top Performers

Marcus Watson – 25 points, 13 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
Donell Nixon – 26 points (6 threes), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block
Alex Jones – 10 points, 2 rebounds, 12 assists, 1 steal
David Viti – 11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist

Cedar Shoals
Snipe Hall – 18 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assists, 4 steals
Jai’Vanni McDavid – 14 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 steals
AJ Jones – 12 points, 1 rebound
Phlan Fleming – 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
Damarrea Lowe – 6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
Stavion Stevenson – 4 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals

Peachtree Ridge Summer League Analysis

I stopped by Peachtree Ridge High School on Saturday to check out Day 2 of their two day summer league. In attendance were: Peachtree Ridge, Statesboro, East Hall, Dacula, Mill Creek, Strom Thurmond (SC), Grayson and Buford. I caught four games on the day and was able to come away with some solid feedback.

Peachtree Ridge 52, Statesboro 47

Peachtree Ridge led for much of the game and was able to close out Statesboro after a late Blue Devil run put a scare into the Lions. Peachtree Ridge finished 19-11 last season and made a trip to the Class AAAAAA Sweet 16 where they fell to semifinalist Newton 63-61. The Lions lose Milz Tatum and Markel McCollum, but return juniors Devin Vassell and Fred Payton. Vassell, a wiry 6-foot-5 wing, netted a game-high 20 points and collected five rebounds in the win. Vassell’s length allows him to play the passing lanes on the perimeter and rebound the ball inside. He will need to add weight to consistently finish inside (which he had no problem doing on Saturday) to get buckets against the state’s more physical teams.

Devin Vassell was in attack mode for Peachtree Ridge
Devin Vassell was in attack mode for Peachtree Ridge

Fred Payton is the quarterback on the football team and a 6-foot-3 scorer on the basketball team. Payton knocked down three three-pointers and finished with 14 points. He is an exceptional athlete that will help on defense and stretch the floor on offense. Another big time football recruit, Connor Heyward, took to the hardwood. Heyward won’t wow you with his scoring, but the 6-foot-2 guard is a physical player that likes to mix it up on defense and on the glass. His strength allows him to body up taller players inside which gives him great value on the defensive side of the ball. On offense, he is a willing passer.

Caleb Holifield, a transfer from Pace Academy, didn’t have a great game but will bring a scoring knack from the outside. He is a good shooter and has experience playing with and against top level competition.

For Statesboro, a 22-9 team from a year ago that fell to quarterfinalist Riverwood 48-47 in the Class AAAAA Sweet 16, senior guard Marcus Kirkland powered the offense.  Kirkland dropped 15 points and collected two blocks. The 6-foot-2 guard hit three of the Blue Devils’ seven threes. Kirkland has a strong build on him. He can get to the basket consistently and should be the leader for Coach Lee Hill’s team. Junior guard Tyler Goodman added eight points and is a scrappy 5-foot-9 guard.

Mill Creek 51, Strom Thurmond (SC) 35

Mill Creek has always been known for its balanced offensive attack. The Hawks snuck into the postseason last year and finished the season 14-15 after a 70-62 loss to Lambert. Key contributors Charles Botchway, Miles Riley and Evan Richardson graduate, leaving the offense to run through rising senior Christian Mancillas. Mancillas is excellent in the classroom (4.0 GPA) and steady on the court as a 6-foot-3 forward. He can affect the game in many ways as proved by his stat line: seven points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Sophomore point guard Jayden Marshall saw varsity minutes as a freshman and will be counted on to orchestrate the offense. He scored nine points in Saturday’s win. Sophomore Brandon Fletcher, a 6-foot-3 forward, led the Hawks with 12 points. Fletcher played on the ninth grade team last season but could help out the varsity due to their lack of size. Junior Noah Kenney made the most of his varsity stint this past weekend, netting 11 points with nine coming via the long ball.

Strom Thurmond was led by 6-foot-1 guard Onesis Brown. The senior scored a game-high 18 points and added five blocks.

Dacula 46, Grayson 44

Dacula has had one of the best summers from the teams I have seen play so far this offseason, consistently racking up wins. Playing a depleted Grayson team without center Kenyon Jackson and other important pieces, Dacula jumped out to a 25-12 halftime lead. Grayson ramped up its defense with great communication out of a 2-3 zone in the second half. The Rams’ intensity ignited a 19-2 run to take a 31-27 lead with 9:33 left. In the end, poor free throw shooting was the difference maker as the Rams ran out of gas.

Dacula’s balanced backcourt did the damage. Junior Arusha Hunter scored 12 points to pace the Falcons while senior Gary Bishop added 10 and five rebounds. Junior 6-foot-4 post Shayne Buckingham ended with eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Super sophomore Mekhail Bethea was quiet in the first half with just one basket, but scored six points in the second half including clutch free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.

Grayson’s young backcourt consisted of sophomore Justin Fleming and freshman Deivon Smith, who hope to become as productive as Alphonso Willis and Austin Dukes were over their careers at Grayson. Fleming scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and collected two steals, but missed a huge 1-&-1 free throw with 35 seconds left down 42-39. On the day, Fleming was 0-for-4 from the line with a majority of the free throws counting as two-for-one’s due to summer league rules.

Smith is a tiny guard around 5-foot-7 that has the ability to sneak past defenders and draw open looks for teammates. He finished with four points, three rebounds and four assists. Senior Joey Chavez scored a team-high 12 points and added five rebounds and a block from his forward position. He’s a willing three-point shooter that will have a chance to see important varsity minutes this year. Senior Kyle Butts rebounded the ball well. The 6-foot-4 forward totaled six points and 11 rebounds in the loss.

Buford 62, Strom Thurmond (SC) 41

Coach Eddie Martin has not rested on his laurels at Buford. The veteran head coach still teaches non-stop on the sidelines and has the Buford program in good shape heading into Year 2. He has a coach’s dream in rising junior point guard Alex Jones. Jones was named Sandy’s Spiel Class AAAA Best Passer and for good reason. He pitched in 12 points, five rebounds and seven assists in their romp of Strom Thurmond. Diminutive in size, Jones has some of the best court vision in the state. Big men Sahil Patel and David Viti carved up the Rebels inside. Patel, a 6-foot-8 senior, and Viti, a 6-foot-5 junior forward from Lambert, should pair nicely this season. Patel went for 10 points, six rebounds and two blocks while Viti added 11 points, four rebounds and two blocks. Senior forward Austin Panks is an athletic energy swingman. He tallied eight points and six rebounds and should be a nice piece whether coming off the bench or earning some starts. Sophomore Ashton Young looked good with the varsity, leading the way with 13 points, six rebounds and two assists. Veteran guard Dawson Wehunt rounded out the attack with seven points.