Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Central Gwinnett's Kwabena Frimpong, left, and Jerry Coleman battle Westlake's Ronnie Harris for a rebound during Thursday's Class AAAAA state semifinal game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
DULUTH -- One roll.
That's all the Central Gwinnett boys needed to add another thrilling chapter to their dream basketball season.
But two good looks at potential game-winning shots in the closing seconds of regulation both rolled out, sending the Black Knights into overtime with taller, deeper Westlake.
Central's record-setting season ended in the extra period, with Westlake pulling away for a 73-67 victory in Thursday night's Class AAAAA semifinals at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
"All year this team just refused to lose," Central boys coach David Allen said. "We were just one roll short of winning. I really thought it was going in."
The frantic final seconds of regulation were set up with a great Central comeback, rallying from a deficit it faced since late in the first quarter. The Black Knights, a school-best 29-3 this season, finally got back to a tie with 1:09 left in regulation on a clutch 3-pointer from Brian Williams.
Westlake's C.J. Reese had his shot blocked by Jordan Adams on the ensuing possession, giving Central a final shot at the win. Allen elected not to call a timeout with just under 20 seconds left, instead setting up a play for Williams, who had a team-high 18 points.
The senior point guard drove to his left and pulled up for a 15-foot jumper that just rimmed out. Teammate Jerry Coleman (10 points, nine rebounds) grabbed the rebound and his putback attempt just rolled out. He got it back again but was unable to score.
"We got a shot at the end of regulation to win, the ball was in the hands of one of our best scorers and we got an offensive rebound," Allen said. "We just didn't get the roll."
"We thought we were going to win it there," Williams said. "When I missed it, I thought Jerry was going to make it."
Williams scored seven points in the fourth-quarter rally that also featured a big 3-pointer from Adams (17 points), a three-point play by Kwabena Frimpong (nine points, six rebounds), a 3-pointer by Ayo Madamidola (nine points) and two big steals by Kyron Anderson.
Adams had a rough shooting night, finishing 5-for-21, but the high-scoring sophomore appeared to find a groove in the second half. But he and his teammates struggled in the extra period as Westlake's height and high-percentage shots (3 of 4 field goals in OT) began to take over.
The Lions (30-2) scored the first six points of overtime as Central's first two trips ended in missed 3-pointers, setting the tone. The Black Knights were 0-for-6 from 3-point range in OT.
Clemson signee Marcus Thornton led the victors with 24 points and 17 rebounds. The 6-foot-8 senior also blocked four shots on a frontline that also featured 6-8, 310-pound Anthony Jacobs, a Central Florida football signee who had 11 points, and 6-11 Nkosi Ali off the bench.
"We've got a senior-based team and big posts, so we didn't have to rely on jump shots in overtime," said Westlake boys coach Darron Rogers, adding that his team made its goal of holding both Adams and Williams under 20 points. "We just needed to stay patient and spread them out. We knew they would have to rely on jump shots."
Those jump shots fell early, with a 4-for-5 start giving Central a 10-6 lead midway through the first quarter. Westlake recovered for a 17-14 edge after the period that it extended to 29-19 on Thornton's dunk with 2:36 left in the first half.
But that basket was the Lions' last of the first half as a scrappy Central defense forced 10 second-quarter turnovers. The hustle led to a 7-0 run to end the first half capped by a Williams 3-pointer.
Westlake countered every Central surge, never losing the lead until Williams' late game-tying 3-pointer.
"We just fought hard like we have all year," Williams said. "A lot of people thought we wouldn't get this far or even get to the state tournament, so we had to prove them wrong."
Along the way, they also picked up a lot of fans. The AAAAA playoffs have been dominated by teams full of transfer students for the past decade, but all of Allen's players are products of Central's feeder system.
That alone was the motivation for many well-wishers who reached out to Allen in the past few weeks, including some of his fellow Gwinnett coaches.
"We have a tight-knit county," Allen said. "We compete against each other, but in the end we want our teams to represent the county and the region well."
Central did that this season, winning the Region 8-AAAAA championship as part of a 15-game winning streak prior to the Final Four. The Black Knights also knocked off defending state champion Wheeler in the second round and set a new school record for wins.
"It's amazing what a group of 15 men can do for a community and for their school," Allen said. "I'm proud of them for representing themselves as well as they did."