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GAC boys win first title since 1977

Photo by Christine Troyke

Photo by Christine Troyke

MACON -- All year long, GAC boys coach Eddie Martin preached to his team to never be satisfied until the ultimate goal is reached.

The top-ranked Spartans heeded that advice in the Class AA state championship game against No. 4 Thomasville.

A big first half by Malcolm Brogdon helped GAC run off to an early lead, and the Spartans survived foul difficulties that beset both teams to hold off the Bulldogs 77-65 on Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.

Brogdon finished with game highs of 26 points and 15 rebounds, while Trent Wiedeman added 18 points, 13 boards and three assists as GAC (32-1) claimed its first state championship since 1977, just a year after being eliminated in the state semifinals.

"The first thing Coach Martin said to us the first day he came here was, 'There's no better feeling than winning a state championship," Wiedeman said. "It hurt so bad losing last year, we wanted to come back here and make a statement."

The Spartans made that statement loud and clear, though Thomasville (24-5) made them earn it.

Fueled by three early 3-pointers from Georgia Tech football-signee Fred Holton, the Bulldogs claimed a 17-16 lead after the final of those treys with 1:49 left in the first quarter.

But that was the last 3-pointer either Holton -- who finished with 12 points -- or Thomasville would make the rest of the game.

And with the perimeter game no longer a factor, it allowed Martin to make an adjustment to help the Spartans deal with Thomasville 6-7 forward Willie Clayton and 6-8 post Robert Carter.

"We played more zone than I've (coached) in the last five or six years (Saturday)," Martin said. "But you do what you have to do. It allowed us to protect our big guys."

Wiedeman needed a little protection after picking up his second personal foul with 5:16 left in the second quarter.

By that time, GAC had built up a 32-25 lead and was able to keep Thomasville at arm's length by getting Clayton into foul trouble of his own -- he picked up his third with 3:29 left in the half -- and with Brogdon and Elliott Long crashing the boards aggressively.

"We needed to rebound," Brogdon said. "Once Trent went out, we all had to group rebound as a team."

Rebounding led to more Thomasville fouls, which led to plenty of GAC free throws, which the Spartans cashed in as their last 10 points of the half came at the line to help them take a 42-31 lead into intermission.

But Thomasville wasn't through as the Bulldogs opened the third quarter on a 10-2 run -- keyed by putbacks and rebounds from Clayton and Carter -- to pull to within 47-41 after Clayton's layup with 3:37 left in the period.

"When you're playing a good team, you've got to know that basketball is a game of runs," Martin said. "You've got to make some runs of your own and withstand theirs. That's the making of a good team."

The Spartans withstood Thomasville's run, thanks to Brogdon and Wiedeman, who each had nine rebounds after halftime and began to assert themselves in the lane.

Wiedeman hit 3 of 4 free throws over a two-minute span -- the latter of which resulted in Clayton's fourth foul with 1:29 left in the quarter -- to extend the lead to 50-41.

"(Thomasville) was more physical than we've seen them before," said the 6-foot-7 senior, who was playing in front of his future college coach -- College of Charleston's Bobby Cremins. "It surprised us to see how physical they were (Saturday). It took us a while to adjust, but in the second half, we definitely adjusted."

Those adjustments began to pay dividends late in the quarter as a Wiedeman stickback and a three-point play by Paul Dawson in transition helped the Spartans extend their lead to 55-44 by the end of the third.

And they delivered the knockout blow early in the fourth, especially after Clayton fouled out of the game with 6:30 still to play and GAC leading 57-46.

Brogdon hit the ensuing free throws, Long added a three-point play on the next trip down and Wiedeman hit two more free throws to complete a 7-0 run that stretched the lead to 64-46 with 4:46 left and helped GAC take command.

"We were able to get our composure back," Martin said.

In addition to the heroics of Brogdon and Wiedeman, GAC also got 15 points and eight rebounds from Long, plus eight points and five assists from Dawson.

Clayton, who came into the game averaging about 17 points and 10 rebounds per game, was held to just 12 points and seven boards, though Carter had a big game for Thomasville with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bulldogs also got 10 points off the bench from Charles Hayes.