Henry leads Patriots to quarterfinals

LILBURN - After last week's first-round playoff win, Tommy McWhorter challenged Nick Henry.

The Berkmar basketball coach didn't think his point guard was playing to his capabilities. Henry took the criticism to heart and came out a different player on Tuesday.

The junior sparked the Patriots' second-half defense, which only allowed four field goals, and Berkmar defeated South Forsyth 51-37 in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs.

"I kind of got off to a slow start in last week's game," Henry said.

"Coach thought I could play better, especially on defense, so I just came out and played the best I can."

Henry finished with 10 points, five rebounds and two steals to lead the Patriots to the third round of the AAAAA playoffs.

"I'm so proud of the kids," Berkmar coach Tommy McWhorter said. "All week we talked about how well they shoot. We won the way we know how and that's on defense."

It's the first time Berkmar has reached the quarterfinals since 2002 when it lost to Wheeler. The Patriots will play the Wildcats, which are ranked No. 1 in the state, on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at either Marietta High School or Mt. Zion High School. A decision by the GHSA will be made today.

"It's just another game on the schedule," Henry said. "We're going to come out hard."

Henry came out strong in the second half on Tuesday. The junior collected one of his two steals at midcourt and took it to the basket for the easy score.

"He's a spark plug for us and makes things happen," McWhorter said.

Forty seconds later, South Forsyth (18-10) coach David Sokol, a 1988 Berkmar grad, picked up a technical foul.

The momentum began to shift in Berkmar's favor. De'Marion Gordon found Henry under the basket for an easy score and the Patriot defense began to stiffen. Berkmar held South Forsyth to just one field goal in the third quarter and 1 of 7 shooting.

Stavantae Rucker's layup put the Patriots up eight at the end of the third as Berkmar (23-5) began to put the game away. Rucker finished with nine points.

"Coach got onto us really hard at halftime," Henry said. "He let us know what's at stake if we win this game. We came out with fire in our eyes."

The Patriots went to the free-throw line 11 times in the fourth quarter, knocking down 11 of 21 free throws to secure the victory. The Patriots were 20 of 33 at the line for the game. Gordon scored seven of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Berkmar will need a better start against Wheeler than it had in Tuesday's victory. The Patriots spotted South Forsyth the first five points of the game and the Patriots' star player, Wesley Witherspoon, picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter.

Witherspoon finished the game with 13 points, well below his 18 points per game average.

Gordon's 3-pointer at the end of the quarter put the Patriots ahead 12-9 and gave them their first lead of the game.

South Forsyth opened the second period with an 8-2 run and after missing seven and half minutes, Witherspoon came off the bench. South Forsyth's Jimmy Conley's 3 gave the War Eagles their biggest lead of the game 27-14 with 2:43 left in the half. Conley was South Forsyth's leading scorer with 13 points.

Berkmar scored the next six points, including two put backs by Jerome Raymond to trail 24-23 at half.

Then it was a different ball game in the second half as Berkmar turned up its defensive pressure.

Now the Region 8 champs will take a on a Wheeler program that has won three state titles this decade.

"I know it's going to be a pretty good game," McWhorter said. "As least I hope it is."