Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
GAC's Taylor Spann, left, jumps in the air with Cole Hobbs (10) as Malcolm Brogdon (22) and the rest of the Spartans clear the bench after their victory over Buford to win the Class AA state championship in Macon on Saturday.
MACON — Following Thursday’s win over Laney, Buford boys coach Allen Whitehart cited two near upsets of No. 1 Greater Atlanta Christian as not only turning points in this season, but also a possible watershed moment in building the program in his first season at the school.
The Spartans didn’t necessarily take that comment as a slap in the face, but rather a challenge, and they delivered a woodshed moment to the Wolves in a 76-36 rout in Saturday’s Class AA championship game at the Macon Centreplex.
The 40-point margin was the largest in a boys championship game in the recorded history of the state tournament according to the Georgia High School Basketball Project website.
And it came as quite as surprise to GAC coach Eddie Martin, especially given the previous two meetings between the two teams in which the Spartans (28-5) needed overtime for a 60-54 win Jan. 8 before escaping their county rivals with a 70-67 win a month later.
“We wanted to save our best for last,” Martin quipped. “This is the third time we’ve played them. We stole one at their place. … We beat them by three at our place in January. It had been two unbelievable ball games, but our kids had fire in their eyes (Saturday). … We knew we couldn’t just show up here and win. We had to come to play.”
Senior Malcolm Brogdon definitely came to play, delivering his fifth straight state tournament game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, finishing with exactly 20 points, 17 of which came during the decisive first half, plus 11 boards.
But Saturday, he got plenty of help, with a career-day from Trent Boyd and the normal steady performances from A.J. Davis and Paul Dawson as GAC (28-5) rolled to its second straight state title.
“We have a really good point guard in Paul Dawson, and he was able to distribute the ball well and make everyone on the court better,” the 6-foot-4 Virginia signee said of his fellow senior, who finished with nine points, six rebounds and six assists. “I give a lot to him. He gives us the freedom to play our game.”
GAC led from the outset, and built as much as an 11-point lead behind eight points from Brogdon late in the quarter before taking a 16-7 advantage after the opening eight minutes.
Buford tried to crawl back into the game with an aggressive look towards the rim.
Strong drop step moves by Nick Mitchell in the low post resulted in a layup and two free throws on consecutive trips, while Alex Flagler also got a bucket and two free throws on back-to-back drives down the lane to pull the Wolves as close as 21-15 with 5:25 left in the first half.
But GAC’s overall size and athleticism began to take over in the latter half of the second quarter.
Brogdon scored six points and Davis began to assert himself on the defensive boards during an 11-1 run over a 3:09 span that pushed the lead into double figures at 32-16 following two Cole Hobbs free throws with 1:56 left in the half.
The Spartans eventually took the a 34-19 lead into intermission, but that was only the beginning.
And Boyd made sure the third quarter would be the end.
With GAC’s lead at 36-22 early in the period, the 6-2 senior scored his team’s next eight points, sparking an 18-2 run that included the Spartans holding Buford (24-9) scoreless for a 3:27 span.
By the time the Wolves had finally scored again with 1:17 left in the quarter, the lead had ballooned to 54-26.
“I just went to open spots (on the floor),” said Boyd, who finished with a career-high 14 points, plus five rebounds. “And Paul and Malcolm and even A.J. did a great job handling the ball and getting it to me. I have to give all the credit to them. I just caught the ball and scored.”
Davis capped a strong state tournament with 13 points, seven rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists, while Cole Hobbs added eight points.
Despite the large deficit, Buford kept battling hard, and Whitehart hopes the Wolves will remember the experience of their big postseason run that got them to Saturday as a springboard for even better things in the future.
“They (GAC) are experienced. They’re the defending state champions. They’ve got the defending AA player (of the year) in the state and Coach Martin is one of the best coaches in the state,” Whitehart said. “This was a great foundation to start this program off on the right foot. I feel like these kids accomplished more than anybody’s ever given them credit for. We’ve just got to build off of it and try to make our way back here.”
Flagler finished his high school career by leading the Wolves with 12 points, while 6-7 junior T.J. Shipes scored five points and pulled down a team-best seven rebounds.
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