LILBURN — Despite being only one seed lower than Shiloh heading into the Region 8-AAAAAA tournament, it can be said the semifinal game turned into a “trap” game for Grayson’s boys.
The Generals’ full-court and half-court defenses smothered the Rams from the onset, while Kareem Brewton led three scorers in double figures with 18 points as Shiloh ran away with a 63-39 win Tuesday at Berkmar High School.
The win was the fifth in the last six games for the Generals (18-9) and moved them into the championship game for the third straight season, where the defending region champs will face Berkmar tonight at 8:30 p.m.
“They’re playing well,” Shiloh coach Kim Rivers said of his team. “I think they’ve just bought in and worked so hard this year. They’ve had some ups and downs, and they’re finally figuring out their identity.”
That identity is one of a team that plays lock-down defense for all 94 feet of the court and tries to speed up the tempo of the game, with both qualities being on display from the opening tip.
After the teams exchanged baskets in the first minute of the game, Shiloh’s sprung its full-court and half-court traps.
If the Generals weren’t forcing the Rams into turnovers — six in the first quarter alone and nine for the half — they were forcing them into missed shots, which Shiloh rebounded.
And more often than not, the turnovers and defensive rebounds turned into fastbreaks, which Brewton and fellow senior Elliott Strickland were adept and converting.
The pair cashed in two opportunities each for either layups or free throws that keyed a 20-3 run over the final 6:38 of the first quarter that left the Generals with a staggering 22-5 lead after eight minutes.
“We just kept running and kept sprinting all game,” said Strickland, who finished with 12 points, four assists and three of Shiloh’s 11 steals on the game. “We just kept running because we knew we had subs coming in behind us, and we knew they were going to take over our spots and do a good job like we did.”
The lead reached 20 points twice in the second half before Grayson started doing a better job on the boards — buoyed by the insertion of Hafeez Anifowoshe off the bench — and cutting down on the turnovers.
Still, the Rams could manage to get no closer than 15 points, including 31-15 by intermission after buckets by Mel Jenkins and Jordan Dilwood in the final 1:27 of the half.
“The turnovers and transition baskets just killed us,” Grayson coach Geoffrey Pierce said. “I think (Shiloh is) the best defensive team in the region. They showed it (Tuesday) night. … They hit us in the mouth early, and we never really recovered from it.”
Shiloh’s relentless pressure continued into the second half after Grayson twice pulled to within 14 points on buckets by Marquise Bumpas and Dilwood in the opening 1:19 of the third quarter.
Josh Okogie led the charge by attacking the basket on the offensive end to either score or get to the line, and rolled up nine of his 14 points in period as the Generals pushed the lead to 51-30 after three quarters, and cruised home to get a chance to defend last year’s title.
“I think we have a pretty good chance,” Strickland said. “(Either Berkmar or Dacula will be) a tough team, but we’re a tough team, too. So, it’s just going to be a battle.”
Meanwhile, the Rams are left to try to recover in the third-place game today at 5:30 p.m. and hope they can get some momentum back heading into the state tournament this weekend.
“You want to be playing, if not your best basketball, close to it heading into state,” Pierce said. “You don’t want to have a let down heading into state. We’ve just got to lick our wounds … and come back ready to play (today).”
Brewton had eight rebounds to go along with his points, which tied him for the team- and game-high honors with Emir Basic, as well as three assists and two steals.
Dilwood led Grayson with 11 points, while Anifowoshe pulled down a team-high seven rebounds off the bench, while Bumpas added six boards.