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Wesleyan comes up big late, GAC early in boys wins

ATLANTA -- Two things neither Wesleyan's boys, nor Jaylen Clarke in particular, had been adept at Wednesday afternoon came in handy late in the Wolves' Region 6-AA tournament semifinal game with Westminster.

Despite the Wolves being badly outrebounded for the game, the 6-foot sophomore came down with two critical boards in the closing seconds.

And despite missing his first three free-throw attempts, Clarke connected on his final four in the final 26.9 seconds to help Wesleyan hold off a late Westminster rally and come away with a 52-49 win at Turner Gymnasium.

Making improvement in what had been trouble spots was the theme of the day for the Wolves (11-14), who advanced to Friday's tournament title game against top-seeded GAC.

"This time of year, you have to do that," Wesleyan coach Ryan Hodges said. "You hope to jell. ... You want to be playing your best basketball of the year, so I'm very proud of the guys.

"We just competed down the stretch in the fourth quarter. (Westminster) Coach (Tray) Malloy does a good job with his guys. They were switching defense on us and their kids played very hard. I was proud of the way we matched them in intensity."

And though it hadn't been a particularly hot perimeter-shooting team this season, Wesleyan connected on six 3-pointers on the evening -- four of which came from Charles Mack as part of his game-high 19 points -- while holding Westminster without a successful shot behind the arc.

Mack's final 3-pointer of the night highlighted an 11-3 run over the opening five minutes of the second half that left the Wolves with their biggest lead of the game at 35-24 following a Bret Greensmith jumper with 3:00 left in the third quarter.

But while the lead was still eight points after three quarters and as much as 44-34 after Jaye Rochelle's driving layup with 6:15 remaining, Westminster started to chip away.

Seven points by Joe Bridges led a 15-4 run that vaulted the Wildcats into their first lead since the opening two minutes of the game at 49-48 following two Bridges free throws with 27.9 seconds left.

But Clarke was fouled on the ensuing inbound pass, and stepped to the line for two shots after missing his first three attempts of the game, including the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity with 41.4 seconds left that would've given the Wolves some breathing room.

"He's a great kid," Hodges said of Clarke, who finished with seven points, six rebounds and two assists. "He's a good free-throw shooter, which is why we like having him in the game. He hit some big free throws against (Westminster) down the stretch (in a 49-35 Wesleyan win) at our place (last) Friday."

Clarke calmly sank both free throws to put Wesleyan back in front at 50-49 with 26.9 seconds left, but his biggest moments were yet to come.

Westminster's attempt to reclaim the lead caromed off the back of the rim, and after the ball was deflected by a crowd in the lane, Clarke leapt into the air to grab the loose ball before being fouled with 7.8 seconds left.

He then stepped to the lane and duplicated his previous feat with two more free throws that gave the Wolves a little cushion at 52-49.

Westminster had one last chance, but Harrison Butker's attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer drew iron and Clarke ran down the rebound as the buzzer sounded.

Will Clifton joined Mack and Clarke in making big contributions in Wesleyan's win by scoring 16 points and coming up with two steals.

Butker, who has signed to play football at Georgia Tech, led Westminster with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Bridges added 10 points and seven rebounds and Sam Schmal came off the bench to chip in 11 points and seven boards.

GAC 61, Hapeville Charter 36

GAC's big men had a field day as the Spartans (23-3) cruised into Friday's final against Wesleyan.

Isaiah Wilkins was just one point short of a triple double, finishing with nine points, 13 rebounds and 15 blocked shots, and even dished out five assists, while Justin Lewis added 14 points, seven boards and a block.

The Spartans led just 18-12 midway through the second quarter, but finished the first half on a 14-2 run behind the sharpshooting of Cam Boyd, who had 13 of his game-high 16 points in the first half, to head into intermission up 32-14.

Collin Swinton also had a big game for GAC with six points, six rebounds, seven assists and three steals, while Tyler Hamilton added nine points.

Joseph Ross came off the bench to lead Hapeville Charter (7-19) with 12 points, while Datron Poole pulled down a team-high nine rebounds.