SNELLVILLE - The reigning kings of Region 8-AAAAA refuse to give up their title without a fight.
Locked in a Friday night war with top-seeded Shiloh, the South Gwinnett boys kept their hopes of a fourth straight region crown alive with a 59-51 victory in the 8-AAAAA tournament at Brookwood. It was the Generals' first loss since Dec. 29 in the finals of the Powerade Basketball Festival at North Gwinnett.
The fourth-seeded Comets, 10-14 because of a five-game forfeit for using an ineligible player, made clutch plays and free throws in the fourth quarter to earn a shot at No. 2 seed Meadowcreek tonight at 7:30 in the region finals.
"People have written us off a long time ago because of all the crap that's gone on," said South boys coach Roger Fleetwood, whose team also clinched a home playoff game in the first round of state. "We just never lost focus that we weren't going to give this (region title) to anybody. Somebody may come out and take it. (Meadowcreek) may come out and beat us tomorrow night and that's fine.
"But we are going to fight to the death not to give that thing up. Because I don't know if anybody's ever won four (Region 8 titles) in a row. Berkmar's won three in a row. We've won three in a row. Four in a row may not have ever happened."
Fleetwood said Friday's win was his team's 16th this season decided by five points or less, and the experience in close games showed in the waning moments vs. Shiloh. South outscored the regular-season champions 20-6 in the fourth quarter, holding them to 2 of 13 shooting (15.4 percent) in the period. The Generals failed to score in the game's final two minutes.
Down six after three quarters, South fought back with a big 3-pointer from Delano Howard (15 points) and two baskets, one a three-point play, from Avery Jukes, who had 20 points and seven rebounds. Jukes tied the score with just under two minutes remaining and after a Shiloh miss on the next trip, South's Nick Gil rebounded and was fouled.
Gil made both free throws with 1:37 left and Shiloh missed again, sending Michael Chatman to the line. Chatman (10 points) also made both for a 55-51 just inside a minute. Shiloh (22-5) rushed its shots on the ensuing few possessions with some long 3-pointers, allowing South to close out the win at the line.
Shiloh now faces Brookwood today at 4:30 p.m. for third place in the region.
The Generals got 13 points from Malcom Robinson, 12 points from Allen Andelija and 11 rebounds from Jonathon Griffin.
"What I think you saw tonight was a team that's been there (in South Gwinnett)," first-year Shiloh boys coach Don Einolf said.
"Avery and Delano have been through the wars together. Justin has been to a Final Four last year (with Stephenson). Down the stretch they took a little momentum from us. They executed their plays and hit their foul shots. That's what you have to do to win."