Photo: Karl L. Moore GAC seniors Collin Swinton (5) and Andrew Lewis (43) celebrate their victory over Manchester with the student section after Wednesday night's quarterfinals of the Class AA state playoffs at GAC.
NORCROSS --Isaiah Wilkins and Collin Swinton, the two returning players who logged the most minutes in last season's state quarterfinal loss to Manchester, were the first two Greater Atlanta Christian starters pulled from the game in the waning minutes.
A lopsided victory assured, the two Spartans smiled as their walk to the bench was accompanied by a standing ovation from a vocal crowd at The Long Forum. They had exacted revenge for what happened a year ago, whipping Manchester 77-52 in the Class AA quarterfinals and advancing to a Final Four game Friday night at 8:30 against Laney at Georgia College and State University.
"It feels excellent," said Swinton, a senior who had 19 points and four assists in his final home game. "They beat us last year, so we were definitely ready for this game. We wanted to come out and make a statement. We didn't just want to beat them. We wanted to blow them out."
While Swinton did his part, Wilkins had a monster game --by the end of the first quarter. He already had 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots in the game's first eight minutes.
The 6-foot-6 junior continued his motivated play throughout, finishing with a triple double of 21 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks.
"(Last year) was motivation," Wilkins said. "We've been wanting this for a week. We weren't going to lose to them again. Not at our house. Not twice. We had to get our revenge for our teammates from last year."
The Spartans (27-3) also got strong games from Troy Morrison, who had 15 points and four assists, and Justin Lewis, who had seven points and 10 rebounds. Cam Boyd added seven points and five boards, and reserve Tyler Hamilton hit two big second-quarter 3-pointers.
That second quarter was critical in the game's outcome after an up-and-down first quarter that finished with the teams knotted at 20.
"I thought we made an adjustment defensively that helped a lot (after the first quarter)," GAC boys coach Eddie Martin said. "The first quarter was just racehorse basketball and that's not us. I was tickled to come out of the first quarter dead even. I was hoping that going to zone would slow down their penetration and slow down their offense.
"I thought we played it well. We rebounded well out of it. To me, that was probably the difference in the ball game."
Tied at 27 midway through the second quarter, Manchester (24-5) really began to struggle against the GAC zone. The visitors missed their last 11 shots of the first half, allowing the Spartans to finish the quarter on a 15-0 run for a 42-27 halftime edge. Swinton and Lewis had four points each during that spurt.
Manchester's troubles continued in the third, missing its first seven shots while GAC extended its run to 22-0. The run of 18 straight misses ensured that the rout was on from there.
"We went zone, that was the key," Swinton said. "We got out on their shooters, boxed out and really crashed the boards. Once we got the misses, we were gone. That was the key. They couldn't really score in the zone."
After shooting 9-for-19 (47.4 percent) in the first quarter, the Blue Devils were 14 of 56 (25 percent) over the final three quarters. Hozell Campbell (19 points) and Kevis Martin (14 points) were their only double-figure scorers.
Manchester, averaging 77 points entering the game, was held to a season-low point total.
"We said on defense we can't keep letting them shoot," Wilkins said. "We had to pick it up on defense. Defense is where it starts."
The defensive effort highlighted the sweet revenge against Manchester, and it also moved GAC a step closer to its ultimate goal.
"No doubt (last year's loss) was motivation," Martin said. "They used it as motivation but they also know this is another step to get us to the Final Four."