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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. Ansley 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.

Class AAAAA

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.

Class AAAAAA

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.

Class AAAAAAA

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.

No. 8 Wheeler showcases EJ Montgomery against young Westlake Lions

Contributed by Chuck Jones

Sponsored by:   @sportalspace

No. 8 Wheeler 94, Westlake 77

IMG_7828

January 4, 2018 (Marietta, GA): Due to a previous snow storm, the No. 8 Wheeler Wildcats (10-5) hosted the Westlake Lions (7-5) as a make-up game in Class Region 2-AAAAAAA action.

With both teams coming off recent wins, the highly anticipated match-up featured several well known players in the college basketball recruiting world; most notably, five-star senior forward, E.J. Montgomery. With the likes of junior wing Isaac Martin, senior combo-forward Brandon Younger and junior floor general, Jaire “Roscoe” Eastman, Wheeler has plenty of depth surrounding  the 6-foot-10 Montgomery.

Westlake, on the other hand, has traditionally rostered contending teams and this season is no different. Westlake boasts the ultra-athletic junior guard, Chase Hunter. The Lions’ leading gunner is supported by 6-foot-8 senior forward Brandon Favors, junior guards Quincy Olivary, Kaleb Wallace, Koby Issac and 6-foot-10 freshman, Frank Anselem.

The contest started with high energy as the two teams went back and forth in the opening quarter while eight different players scored on the combined teams. Westlake led the first quarter 19-18, as Montgomery was held scoreless in the quarter for Wheeler. That didn’t stop the underrated Eastman from finding his other Wildcat teammates for easy baskets to keep the game close as Hunter had the early hot hand for Westlake with 11 points.

The second quarter had the feathery jumper of Martin on display as he splashed three-pointer after three-pointer for the No. 8 ranked team, according to the Sandy’s Spiel boys rankings. Martin’s scoring was matched by Hunter of Westlake, who attacked the Wildcats defense every chance he had while compiling 24 first half points. Despite the Hunter’s individual performance, Wheeler still managed to lead at the half, 42-39.

 Westlake’s head coach, Darron Rogers, obviously didn’t appreciate his Lions’ efforts as he kept his squad in the locker room until under a minute before the second half began. As Westlake opened the third quarter on a Favors two-handed stuff, Wheeler head coach Larry Thompson had his team prepared for the potential adjustments, as he unleashed Montgomery for a monstrous second half.

The unsigned big man turned his knob up and gave Favors all he could stand in the paint, with six dunks in the half, one that showed his ability to handle the ball in the open court and finish. Wheeler’s “Lil’ General,” Eastman must have showed up to the game with a pocket full of change because it seemed like he was dropping dimes all over the gym, as he had a game-high 14 assists.

According to Coach Thompson, Wheeler knew that coming in, the Wildcats would have to contain Hunter. Thompson said, “we focused more on our transition defense in the second half, which was the game’s turning point.”

Wheeler  was able to tame Hunter and played with a better sense of urgency in the final two periods as they wore down the Lions en route to a 94-77 victory. Westlake was led by Hunter’s game-high 32 points, while Montgomery finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks for the Wildcats. Wheeler’s Martin, added 19 points with five three-point baskets. Wheeler will travel to West Virginia and will play in the Cancer Research Classic this Saturday.

No. 1 Westlake impresses in preseason romp of Fayette County

No. 1 Westlake 66, Fayette County 42

Contributed by Rob Grubbs   (@RCGJr226070)

FAYETTEVILLE, Georgia.  The top-ranked Westlake Lady Lions opened the 2017/2018 basketball season with a scrimmage on the road against the Fayette County Tigers Wednesday night. Westlake has been to the Elite 8 three years in a row, but with the talent, depth and the top ranking, this season they want more. Coach Hilda Hankerson said, “Our ladies are excited about the #1 ranking, they are ready to compete.” The Lady Lions took that first step with a convincing 66-42 win over a very good Fayette County team.

Coach Hankerson has a powerhouse lineup with three pre-season Class AAAAAAA All-State players in Texas Tech signee Taylor Hosendove, Simone Lett and Shekinah Howard to go along with All-Region guard Anastasia Warren, Carlyse Hooks and Paris Mullins. To compliment their veteran roster are two impressive freshman as well, Raven Johnson and Brianna Turnage who will be making noise in the seasons ahead.

The game was tied at 6  at the four minute mark when the Lady Lions unleashed a suffocating full court pressure defense and quickly went on a 17-0 that put things away early. It did not help that Lady Tiger leader and three-point sharp shooter Rikkelle Miller got in foul trouble immediately and missed most of the first half. With Warren putting constant pressure on the ball, Fayette County struggled to put together scoring possessions.

The Lady Tigers found some answers after halftime and with Miller connecting on several 3s, the Lady Tigers were much more composed against the constant pressure and held their own. But Coach Hankerson was rolling fresh players constantly into the game. With their depth (Coach Hankerson has 15 players and they all look like they could start), they are equipped for a season that will see fatigue and foul troubles at some point.  Warren led a balanced scoring attack for the Lady Lions with 12 and Hosendove added 11, while Miller lead the Fayette County offense with 10 points.

Afterwards, Hankerson was pleased but saw a lot of work ahead. When asked what they needed to work on after the game, she quipped, “Everything, but especially our rebounding and defensive rotations. Those areas were not where they needed to be. We have a lot of potential, but right now, we have a lot of things to work on.”

This is going to be a fun season to watch for Westlake. Leadership and the talent to raise the bar from the past three years and complete something special. The Fayette County Tigers will compete for the Region title in 2-AAAAAAA and will look to once again return to the state playoffs.

Newton Survives triple-overtime thriller with defending state champion Westlake, 89-83

Newton 89, Westlake 83 3OT

Contributed by Joe Chapman (@Joe_Chapman3)

The moment that the GHSA released the Class AAAAAAA playoff bracket, all eyes fixated on the top right region in hopes of a rematch of last year’s Final Four thriller between Westlake and Newton (Westlake won 64-59). After Newton demolished Peachtree Ridge 100-72 and Westlake topped Roswell 50-37, the dream matchup was set. No. 2 Newton, viewed by many as the best team in the state, against No. 5 Westlake, the defending state champions.

Rarely do games of this magnitude and anticipation live up to the hype. But wow, this may have been the best high school game in the state of Georgia this year regardless of class.

After making the 2-hour trip from Clemson, South Carolina to Covington, Georgia to watch this highly anticipated matchup, I showed up at Newton High School over an hour before tipoff and the gym was already filling up. I knew that this was going to be an incredible matchup when Isaiah Miller threw a self-lob and went between the legs to throw it down in warm-ups. These guys were ready.

It’s hard enough to face the three-guard attack of J.D. Notae, Isaiah Miller, and Ashton Hagans as it is. But with Jamie Lewis out with an undisclosed injury, Westlake needed to play it’s best on the road to come out with a win. Newton struck first and jumped out to a quick 11-4 lead 3 minutes into the first quarter behind a pair of 3’s from senior guard, Darvin Jones, and a 3 and a thunderous poster dunk from Isaiah Miller. The remainder of the first quarter resulted in teams trading buckets and at the end of 1, Newton led 24-16.

In the second quarter, the referees made their presence be felt as they started calling foul after foul, frustrating the capacity crowd. With 4:43 remaining in the first half, and Newton up 30-23, the Rams quickly ran off an 11-0 run behind a trio of 3’s and a big time dunk by super-sophomore, Ashton Hagans. Westlake picked up a couple of buckets late in the first half to make the halftime margin slightly more manageable.

As the 3rd quarter got underway, Auburn signee and top-100 recruit, Chuma Okeke, began to assert his dominance as he quickly rattled off 7 of his team’s first 9 points in the half to cut the deficit to 6 with 3:14 to go in the quarter.

A pair 3’s by J.D. Notae grew the Rams lead back to 12 and by the end of the 3rd quarter, Newton found themselves up 57-48.

With 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter, Westlake pulled within 5. Then, after some Newton misses and turnovers coupled with huge buckets from seniors Okeke and Daniel Lewis, Westlake found themselves up for the first time all night 67-66 with 1:11 left in the quarter.

Senior, Darvin Jones, got fouled with about 22 seconds left and after making the first free throw to tie the game, he missed the second off of the right side of the rim. Coming out of the Westlake timeout, Okeke missed a shot. The ball then landed in J.D. Notae’s arms but he then threw it out of bounds as he tried to make a cross-court pass with about 6 seconds remaining. Okeke then found the ball in his hands again but missed a floater and the game went into overtime.

After going back and forth for the first 3 minutes of the first overtime period, Newton found themselves up 3 with just over a minute left to play. Following a couple of missed layups from Westlake and a Newton free throw, the Rams led 78-74 with 40 seconds left. A Newton turnover led to a miraculous banked 3 by Daniel Lewis to cut the lead to 1 with 25 seconds remaining. Isaiah Miller then hit 1 of 2 from the line and sophomore, Caleb Wallace, hit a floater to tie the game at 79 with 12 seconds left. Ashton Hagans then missed a game-winning 3 attempt and the game went into 2OT.

The second overtime was very low scoring as neither team could buy a basket. Newton had the ball up 83-81 with 51 seconds left coming out of a timeout. After some stalling, Westlake eventually got the steal and senior, Kelvin Simeon, hit a layup off of the assist from Okeke to tie the game at 83. Once again, Newton had the last shot in the 2nd overtime session but Isaiah Miller could not get a floater to fall and then Okeke blocked the Josh Tukes follow attempt and the game went into 3OT.

At this point, the crowd was in disbelief as to what they were witnessing. I knew that this matchup would not disappoint but I never thought that it would end up in a triple-overtime outing. Darvin Jones started the 3rd overtime period with a pull-up jumper. After missed buckets by both teams, Westlake had the ball down 85-83 with 1:39 remaining. A missed layup and a turnover coupled with 4 made free throws from Newton spelled the end for the Lions comeback attempt. Westlake did not score in the final overtime session and Newton came out on top, 89-83.

Despite the loss, Chuma Okeke put on one of the best performances that I have ever seen. The Auburn signee finished with 35 points and 20 rebounds and constantly willed his Westlake squad forward. He finished shooting 12-24 and went to the line 16 times, hitting 11 of them. In the end, Newton was just too much for Westlake to handle, but Okeke did everything in his power to carry his Westlake team. Following Okeke, senior UCF commit, Daniel Lewis, poured in 18 points.

Leading the way for the Rams in scoring was senior Jacksonville-signee, J.D. Notae. Notae found his groove early and finished with 24 points that featured 6 3-pointers. Following Notae was unsigned senior, and one of Sandy’s Spiel’s Under the Radar Seniors, Isaiah Miller, as he poured in 21 points and 10 rebounds. The 6’1 high-flying combo guard did what he does best as he threw down a handful of powerful dunks. He also stepped out and knocked down a 3 while also hitting some midrange jumpers throughout the day. Ashton Hagans is special. He just knows how to run an offense and is so mature for a sophomore point guard. He finished the night with 11 points and a career high 17 assists. He also added 5 steals and 5 rebounds in the win. The pass-first point guard led his team all night and was such a calming presence for the Rams.

The X-factor of this game however, was senior guard Darvin Jones. Jones finished the night with 20 points on 7-11 shooting (3-3 3pt) and 3-4 from the line. He started the game by knocking down a pair of 3 pointers and during the overtime periods, he was not afraid to attack the rim or knock down a pull-up jumper following a Westlake basket. He put on a huge performance for the Rams when they needed it most.

This was hands down one of the top-3 high school basketball games that I have ever watched. Not only were these two teams arguably both top-5 teams in the state, but also the game went into triple-overtime. Newton now moves ahead to face a highly talented Tift County (26-2) squad in the Elite 8. As for Westlake, they take an early exit home following their state championship run last year.

Covington, Georgia was the center of the high school basketball world for the state of Georgia tonight, and it certainly did not disappoint. Here’s to hoping that the Elite 8 games will produce the same excitement as this game did tonight.

Fulton County Media Day (Boys)

Complete Video: http://www.nfhsnetwork.com/events/northview-high-school-johns-creek-ga/26883f8408


Northview
Head Coach: Steven Bombard
Region 7-AAAAAA
2015-16: 8-18

Expectations for the season: “We are pretty excited about this season. We have a really good group of guys returning with varsity experience from last year. We’ve got potentially five guys that were not on last year’s varsity roster that will be on this year’s varsity roster highlighted by Justin Brown, who has some D-I looks already. So we are really excited about the possibilities of what the season can be for us.”

On Justin Brown’s return: “You can see a big difference just in practice. He is one of the most vocal players on the court and it’s a big difference from where he was two years ago when he was just a freshman and was kind of just feeling things out.”

Justin Brown

Back at Northview and ready to be a leader his junior season: “I think coming back here my junior year at Northview, I think we will have a pretty good team and I’m ready to be a leader and just lead my teammates to have a winning season. Coming back from Milton, we had a pretty strong team but I think this year my family and I thought it would be best to come back here where I’m comfortable.”

Alpharetta
Head Coach: Jason Dasigner
Region 7-AAAAAA
2015-16: 11-18

On the dirty work that Garrett Davis does: “There’s a reason why Garrett is sitting at this table right now because he’s everything we want our team to be. I didn’t really know what I was getting with Garrett until I saw him battle with a 6-7 guy in the fall league [FGCU-commit Brian Thomas] without me having to prompt him. He brings toughness, he brings defensive rebounding and offensive rebounding. We may not run a lot of set plays for Garrett, but he could average 8 to 10 points per game by just doing the little stuff.”

What type of dynamic Alpharetta’s football players will bring once they get on the court: “In the fall league they looked decent at times and at times not so decent. I think that our football guys will bring some toughness and a little more athleticism. But I’m interested to see how they respond. They’ve been playing football, they haven’t been with us. We’ve been trying to build this community and these guys get after it every single day in practice. We’re hoping those football guys bring a little beef to the table and some athleticism, but if they don’t fall in line with what we are trying to create, then they are going to be kind of on the outside looking in.”

 

Chattahoochee
Head Coach: Kacey Martin
Region 7-AAAAAA
2015-16: 12-14

Where 6-foot-5 sophomore post Grant Van Beveren fits in this year: “Grant is young, he’s a sophomore. But he’s got some height on him and he’s very patient in the post. You get a lot of post players that get the ball and they try and do things too fast. I think that’s that old school mentality that you were talking about. He’s going to catch it, kind of feel where the defense is and decide what move he is going to make and he’s got really good instincts in the post.”

 

Tri-Cities
Head Coach: Omari Forts
Region 5-AAAAAA
2015-16: 10-14

On playing in a tough deep region: “I think the four teams that advance out of our region will have an opportunity to make a lot of noise in the playoffs. But we try and get them to focus on the process. Focus on us internally. Focus on the process and not worry so much about things down the road that you can’t totally control.”

What style of play they look to implement: “Guys that have coached and played against us the last few years will tell you we run the Triangle Offense. We put a lot of defensive focus. If I said there’s one thing we hang our hat on is half court basketball, being able to execute in the half court sets because when you get to the playoffs a lot of teams are going to force you to play half court basketball.”

 

Creekside
Head Coach: Gregory Freeman
Region 5-AAAAAA
2015-16: 12-14

Outlook for the season: “We have a young team as far as varsity playing experience but we have some older guys. We are a team made up of a lot of juniors sprinkled in with a couple seniors. We are really just trying to gel at this point. We hope the way we practice translates to how we play…We have one rising junior named Tyson Jackson who is one of the top 10 players in the Class of 2018. What I like about the makeup of our team, is they feel like they have a lot to prove.”

 

Langston Hughes
Head Coach: Rory Welsh
Region 5-AAAAAA
2015-16: 11-14

Are the Panthers ready to live up to high expectations, entering the year ranked No. 3: “To be honest, I do. This crew has a lot of experience. When they were 10th graders, we won 21 games. We finished up as a three-seed in the toughest region in the state which was Region 3-AAAAAA. Last year we kind of dipped off a little bit for a variety of reasons. We lost seven games last year by three points or less so we had a tough time closing out some of those really really close games. I think it was a big learning experience for all of us, as coaches and as players.”

Lander Nolley II

What’s different from the Chicago game and the Atlanta game: “The speed is definitely different. The style, how the game flows, it’s all different from Georgia. I just have to make that adjustment to fit in…There’s definitely a lot more running; it’s faster [in Illinois].”

Khalil Cuffee

How to go out with a bang and win a state title his senior year along with Derrick Cook: “We just got to work hard. Bring that to practice every day. Don’t take any team lightly and just come out to win every night.”

 

Roswell
Head Coach: Ty Phillips
Region 4-AAAAAAA
2015-16: 10-16

 

Important football players that will join the basketball team later in the year: “The one kid we do expect to get with our varsity is Jayden Comma. He just gave his verbal to Maryland as a 6-3 receiver. He’s a great kid that’s been in our program since the sixth grade when he started Jr. Hornet basketball. He is just a great athlete. When he gets done with [football] practice, just the other day he came in the gym and was hanging out on the side and watching. Afterwards he was joking with the guys, part of that chemistry. One of the great things for us is when you have a really successful football program, it builds such a great school vibe and spirit and we just want to take that energy and that passion and that pride from being from Roswell and continue it into basketball season.”

 

Westlake
Head Coach: Darron Rogers
Region 2-AAAAAAA
2015-16: 27-4

Is the team ready to compete in the toughest region in GHSA history:

Chuma Okeke: “I’m really looking forward to it. There’s a lot of competition with a lot of transfers coming in. I think this year we are coming in as the underdog really just because we had some graduate. I think we are going to step up to what we have to do and I think we are going to win another championship.”

Jamie Lewis: “Same thing. We lost some valuable players from last year so this year we are really going to have to step up. I’m looking forward to it because it will improve our games individually and as a team.”

Danny Lewis: “We’ve been working really hard every day and we’ve really been buying in and we hope to see it pay off.”

Do you feel disrespected opening the season ranked No. 3 in the state behind two teams within your own region:

Danny: “Not really. We just need to prove it on the court.”

 

Banneker
Head Coach: Earlando Courtney
Region 6-AAAAA
2015-16: 5-21

On freshman Sean Hazel playing varsity: “The first practice, we brought him in and he secretly reminds me of Tim Duncan. His mannerisms and facial expression won’t change at all. Whether he blocks a shot or gets his shot blocked, makes a mistake or makes a great play, it is the exact same thing. So that level of calmness and maturity – even when he makes a mistake he doesn’t get down on himself or even if he does something great he doesn’t get overhyped – that and us being deficient in size and him being 6-foot-3, I was like ok, I needed him probably more than he needed me to tell you the truth.”

 

Centennial
Head Coach: Lorenzo Withrite
Region 7-AAAAAA
2015-16: 14-13

Jay Hothersall

On a playing well in a new region: “It’s wide open. There’s a lot of new teams. We played a couple of them over the fall and the summer. I think once we get the chemistry down, I think we have the talent.”

Craig Shannon

What is the key to the season: “Heart, just because we are probably going to be considered the underdog for most of the season. We just got to have heart, compete, hustle from tip off till the final seconds of the game.”

Cambridge
Head Coach: Chip Flemmer
Region 7-AAAAAA
2015-16: 6-20

Top areas of improvement: “We are going to work really on cutting down the number of points we are giving up each night. We got to get better on free throws and most importantly, we have to cut down on turnovers. We figured it out there were several games – probably eight to 12 games – that two or three possessions cost us, so the record didn’t look so pretty but it wasn’t like we were that far off from being a lot more successful.”

 

Johns Creek
Head Coach: Keenan Temple
Region 7-AAAAAA
2015-16: 24-5

On becoming a head coach again after multiple stops along the way: “I’ve been very fortunate because I coached in Indiana for 10 years then I came here and I coached with Eddie Martin and Scott Bracco, two future Hall of Famers. I’ve learned a lot about how to run a program. A lot about how to handle different situations.”

Coming off the best year in school history, how important is it to establish the program as a top dog in a new region: “It’s important for us and it’s going to play out. These kids have worked incredibly hard, this is probably one of the hardest working groups I’ve been around in years. We want to come out firing, ready to play. I think we are one of the top teams in the region but there’s a lot of talent in the region too. I think it’s a great chance for us, because I think our region games will prepare us for the state tournament and that’s our ultimate goal.”

What people can expect from sophomore guard Neil Ilenrey: “He is a 6-foot-1 linebacker point guard. He’s explosive. He can score form anywhere on the floor. The number one thing for anyone who doesn’t know him, he’s a great kid. He’s a teammate first. All the guys on the team love him. We love having him and he’s very coachable. He’s going to turn some heads.”

 

North Springs
Head Coach: Charles Parks
Region 6-AAAAA
2015-16: 6-18

How to rebuild the program and bring excitement like there was when Jon Burke played in 2010-11: “Just to try and mold these guys’ confidence. I think that’s something that we lack due to playing time together because they come from so many different places. New faces, new bodies and so forth. So just the confidence.”

 

Milton
Head Coach: Matt Kramer
Region 5-AAAAAAA
2015-16: 23-9

How to avoid ups and downs and to peak at the right time late in the season: “Our practices right now are better than they’ve been. That’s a product of me having been here for four years; this being my fourth year. When I got to Milton, we didn’t know how to practice. One of the reasons coaches that have been places for a long time that are having great success is because there’s a culture that has been built there and that culture sets the expectation for practice and sets the expectation for how kids are supposed to act on and off the floor. We’ve got all that right now. My expectation is that we will get better every day and when you’ve got great leadership like Alex [O’Connell], the culture has been set.”

On watching Alex O’Connell grow each year on and off the court: “It’s been amazing. The first time I ever walked in the building, I came from Ohio, I went to Milton the first day and I knew I had his brother Shawn and I’m looking down at the end of the hallway and I see big tall Shawn with the little skinny ninth grader and next to Shawn he looked more like a seventh grader. I knew I was coaching Shawn. I knew there was an Alex but I didn’t know anything about Alex. To see him grow from that skinny little ninth grader to a skinny 12th grader who’s now 6-foot-6, who can do the things he can do on the floor, it’s been something I will probably never see again. There was no way to project Alex being at Duke. That’s a self-made kid right there.”

On Brady O’Connell: “He’s a point-forward. Visualize a Jalen Rose type from the old days. Left handed just like that and he’s as good a passer as you’ll ever see. He sees the floor really well.”

Alex O’Connell

On how younger brother Brady’s game compares to his: “We are definitely similar size, length. He’s probably the same height as me now but he’s sort of a different player. He’s not as aggressive downhill but he has really good court vision up the court and in half court situations. He’s a little bit of a different player. I would say he’s leaning more towards being a combo guard.”

Christian Wright

How would you describe your game: “I’m a big strong guard. I like to get the ball going down the court. I lock up; I play good defense and I can shoot the ball. I play downhill the whole game.”