Craig Sager II sat courtside at the Macon Coliseum over three straight days as the GHSA basketball state championships were decided in the Heart of Georgia. Read his recaps of Saturday's action as six titles were decided on the final day of championship weekend.
Class AAAAAA Boys Championship
Norcross 60, Hillgrove 48
Norcross, Ga., can now call itself “Title Town” as the Gwinnett city became the first school in GHSA history to hit the trifecta of a football state title and girls and boys basketball titles in the same year. Hillgrove may have been considered an underdog heading in to the championship, but a dangerous team capable of precise three-point shooting. The Hawks went 8-for-14 from three-point range, but that was all that the Blue Devils would give them.
Hillgrove scored just two fastbreak points and had just 12 points in the paint compared to Norcross’ 12 fastbreak points and 32 points in the paint.
Brandon Goodwin was the stimulus for the Blue Devils and had a game-high 22 points off of 7-for-11 shooting with16 in the second half. Norcross ended the game shooting 19-for-38 from the field and was 19-for-26 from the foul line. The senior guard grabbed seven rebounds as well and was part of an impenetrable perimeter defense. Hillgrove made just seven two-point field goals in the game. The Norcross defense prevented the Hawks from getting many easy shots, forcing Hillgrove to burn lots of clock on each possession.
Hillgrove’s 16 turnovers resulted in immediate baskets for the Blue Devils and allowed the Norcross defense to jump right back in position to stand tall again. The Blue Devils went with a zone defense and it disrupted the passing lanes. Keith Ray still found success for the Hawks and scored 13 points with teammate B.J. Brown scoring 12 off 4-for-6 shooting from three-point range.
Norcross junior Khalen Pinkett played a leading role in the victory. Hillgove led 20-9 in the first half, but it was Pinkett that created back-to-back fastbreak baskets including an and-one to close the gap. The halftime lead eventually closed to 25-24 in the Hawks’ favor. Norcross would show plenty of poise after surviving the blazing start from Hillgrove. Pinkett finished with 11 points and three assists.
Sophomore Ricky Madison finished with 12 points. Madison had three steals in the game and looked beyond his years sinking clutch free-throws to ice the game. He finished a perfect 3-for-3 from the line. Norcross was able to turn a game that had been close until the final minutes into a double-digit lead as Hillgrove started heaving desperation three-point attempts to try and catch up. The Hawks were outscored 19-9 in the final period, but gave Norcross an excellent ballgame. The Blue Devils have made six of the last nine finals and the championship gave then their fifth state title in the span.
Class AAAAAA Girls Championship
Norcross 63, North Gwinnett 42
The Blue Devils won their third title in four years and it was thanks to seniors Diamond DeShields and Shayla Cooper separating themselves from the field. Cooper was unstoppable in the post and scored 20 points off of 7-for-9 shooting. The senior forward also won her matchup defensively with Peyton Whitted, who will attend Penn State by holding the Bulldogs senior to seven points.
Cooper and DeShields both reached double figures in the first half and were attacking the basket all game. Cooper went 6-for-6 from the line and DeShields was 10-for-13. While Cooper continued to score seemingly every time she touched the ball, DeShields found a way to overshadow her teammate. The North Carolina commit finished with a game-high 25 points and did things a basketball court you will not see unless she is in the game. North Gwinnett was trailing 48-28 heading into the fourth quarter and came out on a quick 8-0 run. The Norcross offense had relaxed the pace and a DeShields pass was stolen by North Gwinnett. After she contested the shot, DeShields got the rebound and was off to the races. She did a crossover spin at midcourt that left two Bulldogs frozen and reaching for air. When the senior got to the the lane, she got the defender with a ball fake before elevating for the layup with her head at the net. In the same quarter, Cooper found a rolling DeShields for the backdoor alley-oop lay-in.
While Norcross’ duo was dictating the pace of the game, the whole Norcross team contributed in the efficient effort. The Blue Devils went 20-for-32 from the field (62.5 percent). North Gwinnett tried to match the Norcross offense as Lexie Brown scored 20 points and added five assists. Brown is a Maryland commit and had to work hard in order to create shots against the tough Norcross defense.
On the final basket of the game, DeShields had a steal that gave her a wide-open path to the basket. The 6-foot-2 guard raced to the rim, and as she leapt for the layup, she made sure to touch the rim as she laid it in before showing a smile.
Norcross outscored North Gwinnett 30-12 in the paint and 7-0 off the bench in the win to claim the crown in Georgia’s highest classification.
Class AAA Boys Championship
Johnson-Savannah 61, Savannah 51
Johnson-Savannah ousted the Blue Jackets with a steady pace and lockdown defense to win their first state title since 1992. The Atom Smashers only attempted three three-pointers and did their work from the foul line and down low. LSU commit Tim Quarterman led the offense with authority, finishing with a game-high 21 points that included nine points from the foul line. Quarterman seemed to be everywhere at once on the court, and when the Atom Smashers needed to slow down the tempo, he was able to play slow and think fast. The lead continued to grow and the senior always looked to be a step ahead of Savannah.
The first quarter ended with Johnson-Savannah up 8-6 after a slow start, but the eventual champs would find their bearings in the second quarter, scoring 22. The second quarter’s sudden onslaught of scoring was a result of second-chance baskets. Johnson-Savannah was 11-for-19 from the field and 8-for-9 from the foul line in the first half with seven second-chance points.
In the third quarter, Johnson was noticeably disrupting the Blue Jackets’ offense and had them settling for deep three-point attempts. Savannah would end up shooting 4-for-18 from beyond the arc for the game. The focused Atom Smashers got back on defense and allowed just four fastbreak points. Jermaine Williams and Jamal Norman were the two leading scores for Savannah. The sophomore Williams had 18 points including three from long range. Norman finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Any time a team goes to the foul line 31 times, its chances of winning increase; the Atom Smashers went made 25 of those 31 attempts. They played four senior starters and emerged as the more experienced team. Quarterman was able to be the leader all postseason, averaging over 20 points, and Johnson-Savannah was able to claim the AAA crown over their neighboring rivals in a packed Macon Coliseum.
Class AAA Girls Championship
St. Pius X 77, Dawson County 55
St. Pius X rolled past Dawson County thanks in part to another magnificent performance from sophomore guard Asia Durr. The Golden Lions standout averaged 21 points per game on the season and exceeded that with a game-high 26 points off 7-for-14 shooting from the field and 11-for-13 from the foul line. Dawson County saw her full arsenal as she drove hard to the lane or stopped on a dime for her lethal pull-up jumper.
Junior Jasmine Carter seemingly took turns with Durr and scored 19 points while dishing out four assists. The Golden Lions were the faster team and the guards set the pace, outscoring the Tigers 12-2 on fastbreaks.
At the half, St. Pius X led 39-27 after posting 23 points in the second quarter. Dawson County struggled driving in the lane and setting up the Tigers’ deep shooters. The Tigers never found their stroke and went 1-for-15 in the first half and 5-for-28 in the game from beyond the arc.
Dawson County’s sophomore star Ashley Parker put in a team-high 20 points and eight rebounds off the bench. Teammates Sheyenne Seabolt and Carly Gilreath each finished with 14 points.
Mackenzie Garrison and Laura Redman were St. Pius X’s two senior starters and put in 11 and nine points, respectively. The offense was cohesive all game with the guards getting to the rim and being able to kick out when it got too crowded. St. Pius X was 6-for-15 from three-point range with Garrison leading the category with three makes.
The Golden Lions were able to control the pace of the game and came out of the gates with an 11-0 start before matching that advantage with an 18-5 run to set the tone in the second half. Coach Kyle Snipes will have his two leading scores back next season.
Class A Private Boys Championship
Greenforest Christian 55, St. Francis 41
It took Greenforest Christian head coach David Jones 21 years to take the podium as state champion again. The Eagles struggled for large portions of the game and scored just four points in the third quarter. Greenforest Christian would outscore St. Francis 23-6 in the fourth and ended the game on a 14-0 to break a 41-41 tie.
Kobi Simmons was the trailblazer in first half for the Knights, but made no noise in the second half. The freshman scored 19 of his team’s 24 points in the first half. In the second half, Simmons got in foul trouble and missed his only field goal attempt, finishing with one point in the second half.
Tosin Mehinti controlled the paint for Greenforest Christian, finishing with 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. Mehinti grabbed six offensive rebounds and the Eagles outscored St. Francis in second-chance points 13-1. The Eagles did their work inside and were just 2-for-9 from three-point range in comparison to 8-for-28 shooting for St. Francis. The state champions played a clean game and only committed five turnovers. Ugo Celestine had six points and five assists and was able to find Mehinti for the high-percentage buckets. Rashad Swain had 13 points and Faisal Abdul-Amlik had a star performance with three of his six rebounds in the second half coming on the offensive glass. Abdul-Amlik finished with nine points in the game.
Kaiser Gates was the Knights’ second-leading scorer with 12 points and was 3-for-11 from three-point range. Gates had 10 rebounds, but struggled finding shots against the Eagles’ athletic defense.
Jones’ team did not shoot well from the field, going 18-for-51 for the game but made up for it at the foul line. The team went 17-for-25 from the line and slowed down the Knights’ offense with the 20 of the 25 trips coming in the second half. St. Francis has just one senior on its roster and Cabral Huff will have a strengthened unit next season.
Class A Private Girls Championship
St. Francis 62, Southwest Atlanta Christian 56, OT
When St. Francis shocked Southwest Atlanta Christian back on Feb. 16 in the Region 6-A tournament championship game, the Knights went 21-for-22 from the foul line and attacked a bigger Warrior team. In the Class A finals rematch, it took St. Francis one half of basketball before the Knights could show the same unrelenting onslaught. The Knights went just 1-for-2 from the foul line in the first half before getting to the line 30 times in the second half and overtime. Candice Williams was the driving force for the Knights, and, after scorching the Warriors last month with 18 points, including a perfect 11-for-11 from the line, she would do it again. Williams was a perfect 8-for-8 from the line and finished with 14 points and four assists.
Antoinette Brown had her hands full today going against the Warriors talented and towering post players. The senior was the heart of the Knights’ scoring and finished with a team-high 22 points and nine rebounds. The lefty also went 8-for-10 from the foul line, making the Warriors pay in the paint.
Southwest Atlanta Christian opened the game on an 8-0 run and held leads through the game with help from Alexis Carter, who finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
The Knights trailed 31-24 at the half but opened up the third quarter with Williams stealing the inbounds pass and eventually finding Nigia Greene for the layup. Greene finished with 14 points and shot 5-for-13 from the foul line. Despite the misses, Greene played a key role in getting the Warriors into foul trouble by continuing to attack. Abby Grant finally got the lead in the Knights’ favor with a deep three-pointer. Carter would answer with a pair of baskets, but Brown hit on a highly-contested layup to give the Knights a 41-40 entering the final quarter.
The important moment for the Knights in their win may have come when Warriors guard Marquita Daniels fouled out with 16 points. The Warriors were ahead 52-48 and freshman Keimeshia Walker came in and travelled to give the Knights the ball down by four. Williams drove straight to the lane and Daniels fouled out with 16 seconds left. The lead was 52-50 and a St. Francis foul put Amber Brown on the line to shoot the one-and-one. Jade Davis got the rebound on the Brown miss and drove the length of the floor, hitting a hanging layup plus the foul with just seven seconds remaining. Davis missed the free throw, but the game would head to overtime tied at 52-52.
In overtime, the Warriors struck first with an Alexis Carter layup. Carter had been playing with four fouls for almost the entire fourth quarter and had trouble having an equal impact defensively. St. Francis continued driving and Williams would ice the game with six points and perfect free-throw shooting in the extra time. The Lady Knights won the program’s first-ever state title.