By Russell Cooks
This time it was decided on the floor. The Sandy Creek Patriots entered their region tournament as the number one seed after winning a coin toss because the Woodward Academy War Eagles had the same exact region record, and the teams split their two regular season meetings. Something had to give. The Patriots prevailed 70-48 and won their first Region Championship since 2003.
“It feels very good. Upon coming into Sandy Creek I knew that the expectations were high. With the track team coming off a state championship, the volleyball team a state powerhouse, and the football team being a national powerhouse, there were a lot of expectations,” said coach Anthony McKissic. “Sandy Creek is what you would consider a football school, although this is true they still don’t lower the expectations when it comes to basketball. The administration was very clear that they want to be competitive in every aspect of our students experience while at Sandy Creek. Whether it is in academics, fine arts, or sports, we want to excel in every area. It was a true blessing being able to produce something that hasn’t been done in 13 years at Sandy Creek, which is a region championship. Coming in my first season is just a bonus. The future is very bright.”
Javon Jackson got the scoring started with a 3-pointer on an assist by Christian Turner. The pair would account for the Patriots’ first six point before Woodward ripped off a 10-0 run.
Sandy Creek responded well. Turner connected on a layup which sparked a eight-point run. Jackson hit another three, and Evan Jester scored on a putback. AJ Freeman made a free throw to make the first quarter score 16-14 for Woodward.
Turner got the scoring started in the second quarter on a steal and a coast-to-coast layup to tie the score at 16, then Jackson connected on another three to give Sandy Creek a 19-18 lead.
The lead swung back-and-forth, before Freeman sparked a nine-point Sandy Creek run with a steal and coast-to-coast layup. Turner connected on a three after making another steal, then Elias Harden scored five straight, his three-point play giving Sandy Creek a 10-point lead.
Just like in a prize fight, someone had to go to their corner to tend to a cut. Turner put on a dribbling exhibition as the Patriots played for one shot at the end of the half, but he was fouled and had to leave the game to tend to his bloody knee.
Sandy Creek held a 32-25 lead at halftime, keyed by 11 points from Jackson and 8 from Turner.
After trainers bandaged him up, Turner was right back at it. He attacked the basket and he was fouled, converting both free throws to extend Sandy Creek’s lead to 34-25. The Patriots executed the perfect fast break, Turner getting the steal, then dishing an outlet pass to Javon Jackson, who found Harden for a slashing layup.
Turner added another steal and coast-to-coast layup before Woodward had a six-point run.
Jackson cooled them down with a 3-pointer, and Harden connected on back-to-back 15-footers. Turner dished out both assists. Jackson executing a slashing layup to give Sandy Creek a 49-37 lead at the end of three quarters.
Sandy Creek started the four quarter with a five-point run. Turner stole the ball and went coast-to-coast again, and AJ Freeman connected on a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 54-37.
Woodward Academy matched the Patriots with a five-point run of their own, but Harden answered with a 15-footer and Jackson converted on two free throws. Jackson showed his creativity as he threw the ball off a Woodward player and made a layup on an in-bound play as the lead ballooned late.
Reserve Xavier Brewer connected on a layup to round out the scoring in Sandy Creek’s 70-48.
Sandy Creek had four players in double figures. Javon Jackson had 22 points, Elias Harden and Christian Turner had 16 points each, and AJ Freeman had 10 points.
Turner finished with a triple–double, adding 11 assists and 10 steals, along with 7 rebounds. Jackson also had a complete game as he also had 6 rebounds and 4 steals.
The win moved their record to 19-7 overall and 9-3 in region play. The Patriots are the Region Champions and will head into the State Tournament as a number one seed, where they will host North Oconee.
“It felt amazing to raise something that this school hasn’t had in over a decade,” said Christian Turner. “Just having that feeling that this team made history is something that I will never forget.”
Javon Jackson added,” It felt great our sophomore year. We were in it and we had a good chance of winning it, but we came up short. And because of the way that we played, I felt like we deserved it. If we would have played the regular season like we played last night, we would have blown the whole region out. No question about it, but I guess we needed some wake up calls. Now, we are totally awake.”
Rodney Jackson, Javon’s dad, said, “It was great to finally win it. I felt that we have had the talent to win the title the past three years, but we just didn’t get it done.”
Tim Turner, Christian’s dad, said, “I was so proud of the young men for reaching their Goal of being Region Champions. They played with purpose and heart. When I saw Javon and Christian holding the trophy, I had a flashback on the Flat Rock days.. We are Champions Again!!
They know they can’t ease up if they want to raise a State Championship banner.
“We must play hard defense, unselfish offense, and we must keep doing both of those things until the clock hits triple zero to end the game,” said Jackson. “If we do tough defense and unselfish offense, we will be fine.”
Turner added, “For us to win, we must play with intensity and play defense every play. If we play tough defense, we are hard to beat and I believe that we can get the job done.”
Tim Turner added, “The key is relentless defense and playing team ball.”
Rodney Jackson also said, “To win a state championship, they have to be more committed to playing tougher defense and going harder after every rebound. We are so confident in our scoring that we tend to try to out score teams as opposed to stopping them.”
“There are a lot of factors that must fall in place in order to raise the state trophy. We came into the season with three goals; win region, win state, and get a scholarship. We must continue to focus on our three goals and take each game one at a time not looking past anyone,” said McKissic. “We can’t worry about things out of our control.”
McKissic has three Fs of winning that will help the team reach their goals, faith, focus, and finish.
“We must believe in the things we can’t see. We have to believe that we are state champions long before we ever take the court. We can’t lose focus and get caught up on trivial things that don’t line up with our vision and goals. Just because something is good doesn’t mean it is good for us. We have to finish what we have started,” he said. “We have six seniors on the team, and they must all focus on finishing and leaving a legacy behind.“