Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Greater Atlanta Christian's Jaye Stackhouse (42) is overwhelmed with emotion after losing to Manchester during the Class AA quarterfinals at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton on Friday. Manchester defeated Greater Atlanta Christian 48-46.
DALTON -- Greater Atlanta Christian's dream of a third straight Class AA boys state championship is over. For the first time in Eddie Martin's four years as coach, the Spartans aren't going to the Final Four.
No. 1-ranked GAC's season came to a heartbreaking end with a 48-46 loss to No. 2 Manchester on Friday night at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center.
"These were two very good teams," Martin said. "If we played each other 10 times, we'd probably go 5-5. I don't think anybody lost. The clock just ran out on us."
The Spartans, who have been winning with defense this season, held Manchester nearly 30 points below its scoring averaging. It wasn't enough, though.
Delano Spencer's driving basket got GAC (25-6) within two points with 23.3 seconds left and set the stage for the frantic final moments as Manchester (22-2) barely held on.
Saiquan Terry missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 22.1 seconds remaining, keeping GAC close. Cole Hobbs missed a 3-point attempt with 8.3 seconds left, the ball going out of bounds, but GAC still wasn't dead.
Isaiah Wilkins stole the inbounds pass, one of several turnovers in the closing seconds. But Manchester regained the ball when it was fumbled by freshman Jaye Stackhouse, who was in the game to foul, and it appeared that was finally it.
"If you call timeout at that point, you give the defense a chance to set up," Martin said. "It's just one of those things where we made a great play. We just didn't finish it. But it's nobody's fault. One play didn't lose the ball game for us."
Again, though, GAC had a last chance. GAC intercepted a pass and got a timeout with a second remaining. Manchester couldn't celebrate for good until Spencer's 3-point heave from midcourt bounced off the backboard.
The Region 6-AA champions Spartans had won nine in a row and 19 of 20 thanks to a defense that allowed just 45 points per game during the stretch. But GAC didn't generate enough offense against Manchester, which has been averaging 76 points per game this season.
GAC was just 7-for-13 at the foul line in the game, but Manchester couldn't cash in either. The Blue Devils were 4-for-7 including the late miss.
Just 29 points were scored in the second half after a racehorse first two quarters which saw Manchester, the Region 5-AA champions, leading 33-32.
Robert Armstrong, one of three GAC seniors, had 12 points and junior Collin Swinton scored 11. But they combined for just five points in the second half. Wilkins, a sophomore, had eight points and 11 rebounds, one more than Armstrong.
Zay Echols had 14 points and Terry scored 12 for Manchester, which advanced to play the winner of today's game in Savannah between No. 3 Albany (25-2) and No. 7 Vidalia (26-3) on Thursday at Macon in the semifinals.
GAC outscored Manchester 6-4 in the third quarter to take a 38-37 lead. But a follow basket by Trayvon Lockhart put Manchester up 46-43 with less than three minutes left and the Spartans had to play catch up.
Armstrong went 1-for-2 at the foul line with 2:35 remaining, cutting the deficit to two, and Wilkins blocked a shot with just over a minute left. But Manchester got the ball on alternate possessions after a held ball and Keevis Martin drove down the lane to score with 50 seconds to play.
Spencer, who was held to six points, got GAC close, but that was to be the end of the scoring if not the frantic action.
"That's all you want as a coach is a chance to win the ball game at the end," Martin said. "We had that chance. The ball didn't bounce our way.
"It's going to hurt for a while because they had high goals. It was killing them in (the lockerroom). But I'm very proud of this group of kids. They played extremely hard.
They've got nothing to be ashamed of. We lost tonight. We didn't lose the season, we just lost tonight."
Manchester was up by a point at halftime thanks to six 3-pointers. Echols, who didn't start, hit three from behind the arc in the first quarter as the Blue Devils went up 20-19 and added another in the second quarter for a game-high 12 points at halftime.
"They shot the ball very well," Martin said of playing a zone against Manchester. "That was a gamble we had to take with them. We knew if we got outside and played them, they'd beat us to the rim. So, we had to take a gamble and see if we could force them to shoot outside, and they shot well the first half. The second half, they didn't."
Manchester won the Region 5-AA title with a 63-61 victory over Jordan, which had been ranked No. 1 previously. No. 5-ranked Jordan (27-3) advanced to the Final Four with a 48-47 victory over Dawson County on Jerry Blanton's short jumper with less than a second remaining in the first quarterfinal at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center on Friday.
No. 9-ranked Dawson County (25-7) made the Elite Eight for the first time since 1969 with a home victory over GAC-rival Buford on Wednesday. The No. 8-ranked Wolves, the No. 2 seed from Region 6-AA, finished 22-8.
Jordan, which won the Class AAA state title in 2007, will play the Laney-Morgan County winner on Thursday in Macon. Laney is ranked No. 4 with a 25-4 record.