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Deadly start ends Pats' season

JONESBORO - Even with the game tied 5-5 things didn't look good for Berkmar.

The Patriots had yet to make a field goal and Wheeler had hit its first two shots. After another Wheeler 3, Berkmar's Stavantae Rucker stole the ball at midcourt but missed his dunk and Wheeler quickly turned the miss into two more points.

And the lead would balloon from there.

The Wildcats missed only seven shots in the first half - one a deep 3 at the buzzer - shooting 71 percent from the floor. They hit six 3-pointers.

By contrast, the Patriots made just 6 of 26 (23 percent) from the floor as Wheeler rolled to a 27-point halftime lead and a 78-56 win in the Class AAAAA basketball quarterfinals.

"I think they hit those 3s and it knocked us back and we didn't recover," said Berkmar head coach Tommy McWhorter. "It got us out of the things we know we have to do to be successful and it cost us."

Despite the big deficit and the raucous Wheeler crowd, Berkmar settled down slightly in the second half.

De'Marion Gordon hit a trio of 3s and Stavantae Rucker added a pair of baskets as the Patriots never let the score grow larger than 30 and cut the deficit to as few at 18 early in the fourth quarter.

"They showed some heart," McWhorter said. "We could have let it get away. I felt our kids came out and fought."

But the hole created by Wheeler's nearly perfect first half was too much to overcome. Though a renewed defensive effort in the second half held the Wildcats to just nine third-quarter points the lead was never threatened.

"After getting shell-shocked our defensive intensity just wasn't there," McWhorter said.

Gordon led Berkmar with 17 points, followed by 13 from Witherspoon who struggled from the floor, making just three field goals. The team only made 17 field goals on the night. Wheeler hit 27.

"The guys that have gotten us this far just didn't play that well offensively," McWhorter said.

Former Central Gwinnett standout Richard Howell had a double-double for Wheeler with 19 points and 10 rebounds and Ari Stewart led all scorers with 23. Phil Taylor conducted the offense from the point with four assists to go with his 10 points.

No matter how lopsided the final score was McWhorter still managed a smile when talking about his team's season that included a Region 8-AAAAA championship.

"We overachieved from where we came from," he said. "Our seniors did the best they could for us. To come in here and win would have been a huge upset. We can't ask for anything more than that."