Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian's Troy Morrison (4) takes a foul from Laney's Jashawn Brooks (22) during the fourth period of a boys Class AA state tournament semifinal basketball game played in Milledgeville on Friday. GAC defeated Laney 64-56.
MILLEDGEVILLE -- As important as stars like Isaiah Wilkins and Collin Swinton are to Greater Atlanta Christian's success, it was a pair of role players who perhaps came up with the biggest contributions in the Spartans' Class AA state semifinal game against Laney.
Tyler Hamilton and Andrew Lewis combined for 12 points off the bench -- 10 in the fourth quarter -- as the Spartans outbattled the scrappy Wildcats 64-56 Friday night at the Centennial Center.
Wilkins (16 points, 14 rebounds, three blocked shots) and Swinton (14 points, three assists) did have their customary strong games.
But make no mistake, the Spartans (28-3) might not have a shot for their third state title in the last four seasons -- which they will play for next Friday at 4:45 p.m. at the Macon Centreplex against Bleckley County -- if not for the clutch contributions of Hamilton and Lewis off the bench.
"They stepped up and played big minutes," GAC coach Eddie Martin said of his two reserves. "We needed something out of them (Friday) night. We didn't need them to just come in there and be a body. Drew did a great job around the basket changing some shots and pulling some rebounds, and Tyler made some nice plays out there."
None bigger than two huge plays in the final 4:41 of the game.
The first came on Hamilton's first shot attempt of the night with Laney leading by two points.
The junior guard received a kick-out pass from Wilkins in the low post from a wide-open look from the right wing -- a shot Martin admitted wasn't necessarily his first choice.
"No," Martin confessed with a laugh. "It's one of those things right there where he's open, he had the shot. But you've got to look at (the fact) he came in and hit two big 3s (in the quarterfinal win) against Manchester (on Tuesday), and he felt good about himself.
"It was the shot to be taken. I probably wouldn't say that if he missed it, but it was the shot to be taken."
Martin needn't have worried, because Hamilton's shot fell cleanly through the net for a 3-pointer that vaulted GAC into a 50-48 lead with 4:41 remaining.
"Coach Martin's been believing in me all year," Hamilton said. "He's instilled in me that I'm a great player. I just had to let (the shot) go.
"We haven't been getting as much time as a lot of guys. ... We just try to come in and do our best and provide whatever we can to the team to get a 'W.'"
Lewis then came up with his biggest play of the night on Laney's ensuing possession, stuffing a Wildcat guard for his third blocked shot of the night and pulling down the rebound in the same motion before drawing a foul.
The 6-foot-7 senior then drained both of his free throws to give the Spartans a little breathing room at 52-48 with 4:10 left.
After two more stops, and two Troy Morrison free throws, pushed the lead to six, Hamilton delivered the knockout punch.
He got behind the Laney (19-9) defense and tapped home a perfectly placed alley-oop pass from Swinton while drawing a foul, and hit the ensuing free throw to give GAC a commanding 57-46 lead with 2:25 left.
While the Spartans struggled from the foul line most of the game, hitting just 15 of 27 free throws on the evening, they hit just enough down the stretch -- 5 of 8 in the final 1:14 -- to seal the win.
GAC knew it was in for a battle from the very start, with Laney building as much as an 18-10 lead early in the second quarter behind eight points from Jashawn Brooks -- part of his game-high 21 points on the evening.
The Spartans also didn't do themselves any favors by hitting just 3 of 12 from the line and committing eight turnovers in the first half, but still rallied to pull as close as 27-25 by halftime.
"To play as poorly as we did in the first half with the turnovers and the free-shooting, to only be down two at that particular time was an omen for us," Martin said. "We just had to come out and play better basketball (in the second half)."
And the Spartans did, outscoring Laney 20-12 in the third quarter to build as much as a nine-point lead before taking a 45-39 advantage into the fourth quarter.
Still, Laney wouldn't go away, as two 3-pointers -- one with two seconds left in the third quarter and another 20 seconds into the fourth -- and two free throws by Brooks ignited a 12-2 run that vaulted the Wildcats back into the lead at 48-47 following a pair of Zephaniah Jasper free throws with 6:22 left, setting up Hamilton's heroics.
Hamilton and Lewis weren't the only role players contributing to GAC's cause on the night.
Troy Morrison had a steady game with seven points, seven assists and two steals, while Cam Boyd chipped in eight points, five rebounds and three steals and Justin Lewis fought off foul trouble to add seven potions, 10 boards and a block.
Jasper joined Brooks in double figures for Laney with 15 points.