By Russell Cooks & Christopher Dunn
Sandy Creek routs North Oconee 84-38 in state opener
The Sandy Creek Patriots advanced to the Sweet 16 by manhandling the North Oconee Titans Wednesday night. The Patriots played like true champions posting an 84-38 victory.
The Patriots wore their region championship crown well as they dominated from the opening tip. Keith Heard won the tip, and it was Christian Turner with an assist to Javon Jackson for a quick 3-pointer. Two possessions later, it was Turner assisting Elias Harden for another three.
Jackson led with seven points as Sandy Creek posted a 16-3 first quarter score. Evan Jester added four first quarter points.
The second quarter belonged the Patriots as well, Harden and Jester leading the way. Harden scored 13 points while Jester added 8 points. The future at Sandy Creek is super bright because these guys really put on an offensive display and will be back next season.
Harden opened up the scoring with a 3-pointer from a Turner assist as part of a trio of threes in the second quarter alone. He also contributed a 15-footer and a driving layup.
Jester scored in a variety of ways, hitting a mid-range jumper, a driving layup on a Turner assist, and a tip in. His highlight was a quarter-ending slam dunk off a Harden assist that forced the crowd to go wild as Sandy Creek led 42-10 at the half.
The Patriots took up where they left off in the third quarter. They had another 26-point quarter, and it was led by Harden again with six points. However, the biggest highlights came from two underclassmen. Sophomore Jarred Godfrey connected on a 3-pointer and added a slashing layup to give him five points, while sophomore Kam Miller added a layup and two assists.
At the end of three quarters Sandy Creek led 68-27.
In the fourth quarter, it was all subs taking care of business. David Evans led the group with six points, freshman TJ Bickerstaff added four points, and Godfrey scored four points in the fourth quarter. Harden led all Sandy Creek scorers with 22 points, Jackson added 15 points, and Jester had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Godfrey added 9 points and Turner had 5 points and 11 assists.
The win improved Sandy Creek’s record to 20-7 overall and 9-3 in region play. Sandy Creek will move on in their journey to capture a state championship as they will host Bainbridge. It was Bainbridge that eliminated Sandy Creek from the state playoffs in football, so it should be an epic battle as the Patriots have revenge on their minds.
McIntosh romps in opening round with 100-69 win over Carver
The McIntosh boys have sky-high expectations, and they weren’t about to led a slow start keep them from their goals. The Chiefs woke up and dominated the Carver Tigers 100-69 in a round one romp.
“It’s real good for our confidence,” said coach Jason Eisele. “That’s big when you put up 100 against a state-caliber team. We were clicking there for a while.”
The Chiefs came out flat, falling behind 10-0 at the start, but they showed great resilience.
“They came out hungry and had 10 up on us before we even knew what happened,” Eisele said. “Once we settled down, we started playing good and battled back.”
McIntosh again showed the versatility that will make them such a threat in the playoffs. Try to take out one player, and there’s a handful more that will kill you.
“Our guys stepped up and stepped into new roles. Last year at state, we didn’t do that well,” said Eisele, whose team is working through some injuries. “We’ve grown as a team, and that’s encouraging. It’s not a one-man show. We’re able to spread the ball around, and everyone does their job.”
It was Carver who moved the ball around early, setting up and knocking shots down from long range as they shocked the home crowd to build a 10-0 start.
McIntosh responded, finally getting on the board with an Isaac Kellum bucket. They pulled back to a 10-10 tie with authority, keyed by a pair of Dishon Lowery dunks, the second set up by a Chase Walter block and long Jordan Lyons pass.
The Chief run tied the game, but Carver wasn’t done, grabbing a 6-0 run to keep in front 21-17 at the end of the quarter.
Will Washington softened up the defense to start the second quarter, driving to the hoop for a bucket. That opened up the outside for Lyons, who hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Chiefs their first lead at 25-24.
Braxton Shaw provided a spark off the bench in the second, blocking a shot on the defensive end, then adding a steal and coast-to-coast layup. Brendon Rowan added a 3-pointer as lead grew.
Kellum and Lowery finished off the half with a flourish, scoring the Chiefs’ last 10 points. Lowery kicked it out to Kellum for a 3-pointer, then called his own number for a bucket at the buzzer with a free throw for a 42-31 halftime lead.
The second half belonged to McIntosh as they left no doubt in the outcome. The third quarter was filled with flashy plays as Walter added two more thunderous dunks, Washington wowed with a driving double-clutch scoop shot, and Lyons capped off the quarter at a 70-48 lead with consecutive 3-pointers.
McIntosh did not ease up to start the fourth, Shaw sinking a pair of threes and Kellum throwing down a dunk as the lead ballooned. With under three minutes to play, the reserves took over, but showed no mercy. The crowd wanted 100 points, and they got it. Mitch Maxwell scored to make it 98, then Ulysses Brown stole the inbounds pass and laid it in at the buzzer to make the gym erupt.
Jordan Lyons led all scorers with 31 points. Isaac Kellum followed with 17, and Dishon Lowery added a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
The victory sets up a home game against the Gainesville Red Elephants in round two.
Fayette County boys go on road, upset Buford 69-62
As impressive as the wins by McIntosh and Sandy Creek were, the biggest victory in round one came courtesy of Fayette County. The Tigers went on the road and upset the Buford Wolves 69-62.
Fayette went into the Wolves den and came out victorious. Even facing a large deficit early did not phase them.
“I’m am so proud of this team,” said coach Andre Flynn. “We were down 13-2 to start the game in a hostile crowd against a number-one seed. We never gave up and kept playing.”
The win serves notice that the state better pay attention to an underrated team. The Tigers have more than held their own all year against a tough schedule. Against Buford they again used their dedication to defense and fundamentals to score the upset.
“The keys to the game were our ability to play full-court pressure and get turnovers and make key free throws down the stretch,” said Flynn, whose team shot 15-of-18 from the line.
The team is the very essence of the word. They don’t win with stars. They just win.
“The biggest thing about this team is they are a true team. They pull for each other, and they play for each other,” said Flynn. “For a team that only returned one player that played a significant role last year to beat Buford at Buford speaks very highly of them.”
Jaylon Cheffin, the lone returning contributor, used his sharpshooting to lead the way as he posted 24 points on 73 percent shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers. Noah Gurley followed with 14 points and 6 blocks, and Austin Nesmith, the starting point guard who had never played in a varsity game before this season, posted a double-double with 13 points and 12 assists.
The win moves the Tigers into the second round where they traveled to face the Monroe Tornadoes.
Lady Wildcats knocked out by reigning champs from Buford
A young Whitewater girls squad saw their season end Wednesday night, but their future is bright. The Wildcats faced the unenviable task of traveling to face Buford, ranked number three in AAAA and the defending state champions, falling 63-38.
“I think we got better as the season went along,” said coach Rashad Muhyee. “In the beginning of the year, the girls had to learn their role. They had to learn my expectations and what we were trying to do on offense and defense. By the end of the year, we were playing pretty good, we just had to face the defending state champs in the first round of the state.”
This year’s squad was a mixture of senior leadership from players like Jordan Barnett, Sally Worst, and Olivia Baker and talented freshmen in the quartet of Janiya Jones, Courtney Smith, Morgan Johnson, and Jada Claude. They have paved the way for some big wins to come.
“I am very excited about the future of this program,” said Muhyee. “Three years ago, we talked about changing the culture of basketball here, making basketball an all-the-time thing, not just something that was picked up in the fall. We wanted people to mention Whitewater when they talked about basketball in Fayette County. I think we are headed in the right direction. I think we have joined that conversation.”
The senior class is a special one for Muhyee.
“I can’t say enough about my senior class. This is the class I started with at Whitewater,” he said. “They did a great job this year, and I know they will be a success in whatever they do in life.”
Whitewater finishes the season 14-14.