GAC’s Isaiah Wilkins (21) and Troy Morrison (4) celebrate in the final seconds as GAC defeats Calhoun 58-55 in the boys Class AA state championship game at the Macon Centreplex in Macon Friday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
MACON — Greater Atlanta Christian’s clash with Calhoun for the Class AA boys basketball state championship was far from a perfect game by the Spartans.
But it produced the perfect ending for their season.
Isaiah Wilkins’ dominant performance and some clutch free throws and defensive plays in the final minutes helped GAC hold off a gutsy effort from Calhoun and come away with a 58-55 win Friday at the Macon Centreplex.
Wilkins finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots as the Spartans (32-0) not only won their fourth state title in the last five seasons, but also became the first Gwinnett County high school boys basketball team to complete an undefeated season.
“Perfect season. Perfect season,” said senior guard Troy Morrison, who finished with seven points, five assists and four steals. “I just think it’s incredible for our team. We knew this was going to be a big test for us. We knew (Calhoun was) going to come out fired up. We knew if we played defense like we’ve done all season, it wouldn’t be a problem for us.”
Actually Calhoun (26-3) caused plenty of problems for GAC, never trailing by more than five points and never letting the Spartans get too comfortable.
“They’ve got such good balance on offense,” GAC coach Eddie Martin said of the Yellow Jackets. ” And I thought they did an outstanding job on defending us. … They’ve got an excellent team and they play hard. I knew coming in … there’s not fluke to them being here.”
But as big a pests as the Yellow Jackets were, they didn’t cause nearly as many as problems as Wilkins gave them from the outset.
The 6-foot-7 Virginia-bound senior scored 11 points and pulled down nine rebounds in the first half, while 6-6 running mate Justin Lewis added four points, four boards and a block, including a layup in transition that helped GAC match its biggest lead of the half at 28-23 with 53 seconds left.
While Calhoun shot just 3 of 12 from 3-point range — with all three coming from Chandler Curtis — in the opening 16 minutes, their treys were well timed.
All three of Curtis’ shots from behind the arc came after the Spartans had built their biggest lead, and the 6-0 senior came up with another big play as GAC tried to build its lead further late in the half.
He blocked Cam Boyd’s attempt at a 3-point shot and led a fastbreak before dishing off to Keyth Fightmaster for a layup with two seconds left in the half, which sent the Yellow Jackets into half trailing just 28-25.
Calhoun even took a brief 36-35 lead on Kaelan Riley’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4:03 left in the third quarter, and even after Wilkins answered with a thunderous dunk and layup in a 29-second span to give GAC the lead back, the Yellow Jackets hung around, trailing just 41-40 after three quarters.
However, they still had no answer for Wilkins, even when they forced him out of the lane and out to the perimeter.
He knocked down a jump hook from about 12 feet and added two more clutch jumpers from around the foul line as the Spartans matched their biggest lead of the game at 52-47 following a Lewis free throw with 1:05 left.
“They’re a good team with a good coach,” Wilkins said of Calhoun. “They fronted me the whole game. That was different. That’s never happened to me before. But my teammates were able to find me with over the top passes … and I was feeling it at the end of the game.”
But as big as his offense was, Wilkins’ two biggest plays of the game came at the defensive end down the stretch.
The first came with 1:11 left and GAC holding just a four-point lead, as Wilkins, who had four fouls at the time, took a charge from Riley.
“Honestly, I forgot I had four fouls,” Wilkins admitted. “But I felt like I was there and he was coming. And (the officials had) called a charge on us the (possession) before, so I felt like they’d give it right back.”
Calhoun had one last surge in it as Riley and Jireh Wilson each hit 3-pointers in the final minute to cut the GAC lead to 54-53 with 30 seconds left.
The Spartans got two clutch free throws each by Cam Boyd and Morrison, but still led by just one point when Garrett Covington broke free for a layup that made the score 58-55 with 11 seconds left.
That set the stage for Wilkins’ second big play, when he outfought two Yellow Jackets for the rebound of Wilson’s 3-point miss and batted it out to midcourt, allowing the clock to run out and preserve the title for the Spartans.
“I didn’t know how many seconds (were left), but I saw the clock ticking down,” Wilkins said. “I was just trying to hit (the ball) as far away as possible.”
As perfect as the ending was for GAC, it was a tough one for Calhoun, which got 18 points from Riley and 14 from Chandler on the night.
“They know how to battle,” Yellow Jackets coach Vince Layson said of his players. “They came in here (Friday) night and did everything we asked them to do. … (But Wilkins) is a great player. He deserves the hype.”