Boys Basketball Semifinals Previews

Wilkinson County and Calhoun County could be destined for another title clash.

Here are previews for each classification for the boys basketball semifinals, to be played on Friday, March 2, and Saturday, March 3.

Class AAAAAAA – Saturday, Buford City Arena

The top classification features matchups of first-time opponents this season. No. 2 Norcross routed No. 1 McEachern in Wednesday’s quarterfinals game, winning 75-55 at home. The Blue Devils started fast and never looked back, jumping out to a 24-8 lead after the first quarter and coasting from there in front of a raucous crowd. Sophomore Brandon Boston led the onslaught with 22 points, and Kyle Sturdivant chipped in 12. Issa Muhammad had a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Newton has been strong all season as well, sporting one of the state’s top talents in Ashton Gibbs, who scored 31 points in his team’s roller-coaster 87-81 quarterfinals win over Wheeler. Newton led by 20 points heading into the fourth quarter but had to hold off a furious Wildcats comeback.

On the other side, Meadowcreek got a huge game (18 pts, 15 rebs) from Cory Hightower to move the Mustangs past Campbell in the quarterfinals. Amari Kelly (16 pts, 9 rebs, 4 blks) was strong as well for Meadowcreek. The Mustangs will meet a Gwinnett County foe in Grayson, which made its second-straight semifinal with its 73-66 quarterfinals win over Pebblebrook. Grayson expanded a 42-28 halftime lead to as much as 17 points in the second half before withstanding a Pebblebrook push. Terence Porter Jr. and Kenyon Jackson were strong in the paint for Grayson and combined for 32 points.

Class AAAAAA – Saturday, University of West Georgia

Gainesville has been one of the hottest teams in the state, as the No. 1 Red Elephants have reeled off 21 straight wins after starting 2-6 with a brutal early schedule. Gainesville is deep and talented and has been unstoppable in February, winning its first two playoff games by 36 and 25 points and handling Lakeside-Evans 111-66 in the quarterfinals. The team shot 58 percent from the floor in that game, led by Xavier Bledson’s 23 points, Kajuan Hale’s 22 points and K.J. Buffen’s 18 points. Opponent Heritage-Conyers has survived some competitive games this postseason, defeating Drew by five points in the first round and North Atlanta by five points in the quarterfinals. The Patriots got 18 points from Josh Guilford, eight in the fourth quarter, to help them overcome a six-point deficit heading into the final frame.

Langston Hughes is looking to advance to the finals for a possible rematch with the team it defeated in the semifinals last season, Gainesville. The Panthers had to come back from an eight-point deficit to Coffee at halftime of their quarterfinals game, only taking a lead with two minutes remaining. Landers Nolley led the way with 34 points and eight rebounds. Jonesboro, making its sixth semifinals appearance in nine seasons, seeks an upset. The Cardinals got 32 points from Jamari Smith in their 72-64 quarterfinals win over Tri-Cities.

Class AAAAA – Saturday, Fort Valley State University

The classification’s depth and talent will be on full display with this year’s semifinalists. In the 4 p.m. game, No. 3 seed Miller Grove will face a Hiram team that missed out on the playoffs just a year ago as their 11-15 season ended in the opening round of the region tournament. Miller Grove head coach Rasul Chester has led the Wolverines to back-to-back final four appearances in his first two seasons at the helm. Their current playoff run includes a 79-75 win over defending state champion Buford in the Sweet 16, a game that saw junior Maurice Harvey shine with a career-high 30 points in the victory. Hiram trailed Southwest DeKalb 13-3 after the first quarter of their 42-41 overtime win in the Sweet 16 and then stifled Starr’s Mill 47-35 in Wednesday’s semifinal victory.

In the 8 p.m. game, Clarke Central will play in the program’s first-ever Final Four against the high-scoring Warner Robins Demons. This will be Warner Robins’ third trip to the semifinals in the last five seasons. The Demons are averaging more than 80 points per game this year and erupted for 96 and 99 points, respectively, in the first and second rounds. Clarke Central ran away with a 73-52 win over Stockbridge in the quarterfinals. The Gladiators were led in scoring by Quamonte Monfort (19 points), Martavius Darden (18) and Mijah Campbell (15).

Class AAAA – Friday, Fort Valley State University

Seniors Rodney Walker and Brenden Robertson are Baldwin’s primary scorers, but players up and down the roster have stepped up this postseason. Ten different Braves scored in their 71-45 first-round victory over Druid Hills, and Charles Ubah’s game-winning three-pointer gave Baldwin its first lead in its 60-57 Sweet 16 win over Americus-Sumter. In Wednesday’s 61-52 win over Cartersville, Donte Justice scored 13 points in the first half and hit back-to-back three-pointers that put Baldwin up 52-44 with just minutes left. Baldwin’s opponent St. Pius has rolled through the playoffs, stacking up a 24.6-point average margin of victory through the first three rounds. Sandy Creek faces defending state champion Upson-Lee in a prime-time matchup worthy of closing out Friday’s semifinal slate.

Sandy Creek showcased its explosiveness in the quarterfinals by outscoring Burke County 27-9 in the final quarter. Jarred Godfrey led the Patriots with 21 points, Xavier Brewer scored 18 and junior T.J. Bickerstaff tallied 13 points and 16 rebounds. Upson-Lee routed LaFayette 70-40 for a 61st straight victory. After being named Class AAAA Player of the Year as a junior last season, Upson-Lee’s Tavias Fagan has been even better this year; Fagan’s points per game (25) assists (4.6) and rebounds (7) have all increased. In addition to Fagan, Upson-Lee boasts 6-foot-6 junior Travon Walker, guards Zyrice Scott and Cameron Traylor and senior JaCorey Smith.

Class AAA – Saturday, Georgia Southern University-Armstrong Campus

Morgan County is on a trek to make its fifth-consecutive title appearance, but Greater Atlanta Christian stands in its way. The Bulldogs, who won titles in 2014 and 2016, have had little trouble storming through the bracket this season, defeating North Hall 61-29, Towers 64-49 and Central-Macon 51-37. GAC, on the other hand, has had a tougher road to the semis after squeaking by defending champion Pace Academy in the second round 57-54. The Spartans used the second-round scare as momentum and cruised through the quarterfinal game over Johnson-Savannah 75-61.

On the other side of the bracket, the lone Savannah school standing, Jenkins, will face a Westside-Macon squad that has not skipped a beat since losing star player Khavon Moore to injury on Jan. 9. Westside has been lead by senior Gregory Holloway, who is averaging 18.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game for the Seminoles. Jenkins will be a tough test, however, as it is riding momentum from a come-from-behind quarterfinals victory over Cedar Grove in which the Warriors were down 19-9 after the first quarter. The Warriors put together a 21-12 run in the second quarter, led by Tyrone Scott and Tre’ Mays, to cut into the lead, and heading into the fourth quarter, Jenkins was nursing a one-point lead before outscoring Cedar Grove 28-18 to punch its ticket to the Final Four.

Class AA – Saturday, Georgia College & State University

On the left side of the bracket, Vidalia, the No. 3 seed from Region 2, is coming off an 84-49 rout of Jordan in the quarterfinals. The Indians are led by senior Tahj Jones, who is averaging nearly 20 points per game, and junior Anthony Jones, who adds just under 10 points per game. Laney, which fell to Dublin in the quarterfinals last year, is on a redemption run. The Wildcats are coming off a convincing 70-55 victory over South Atlanta in the quarterfinals that was led by Maurice Page and Donald Henley, who each scored 13 points.

On the other side of the bracket, Thomasville, the No. 1 seed from Region 1, will face Glenn Hills, the No. 2 seed from Region 4. Thomasville has had an easy run through the bracket since the 56-50 victory over Swainsboro in the opening round. Since then, the Bulldogs have cruised past Dublin (72-60) and Spencer (84-45). Glenn Hills is coming off a 73-52 victory over Therrell. If Thomasville wants to reach the finals, the Bulldogs have to silence Glenn Hills’ Tim Williamson, a 6-foot-4 senior point guard. Williamson’s 23 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two assists helped lead Glenn Hills over Therrell in the quarterfinals. Timmy Sellers, another Glenn Hills threat, added 18 points, five rebounds and two blocks in the quarterfinals victory.

Class A-Public – Saturday, Valdosta State University

The semifinals matchup between Calhoun County and Montgomery County will not be the first time these teams have met this season, as Montgomery County got a close win in overtime, 94-91. Calhoun County is looking for another big game from senior guard Rashun Williams, who has been electric during the playoffs. His 23-point game against Woodville-Tompkins in the quarterfinals represented nearly half of his team’s offense and helped secure the victory. Montgomery County got an 81-74 overtime win over Lanier County in the quarters thanks to a 12-0 run in the extra period. Daveaun Coglin led the Eagles with 25 points in the game.

After falling in the second round of last year’s playoffs, Central-Talbotton has propelled itself into the semifinals. The Hawks’ senior class has stepped up tremendously, creating nonstop offensive opportunities. Senior guard ZyTavian Hill is averaging just under 20 points per game, while senior point guard JaQavius Smith also chips in around 15 points per game. Central’s scoring duo is hard to contain. Wilkinson County finished off last season by claiming the Class A-Public title after a 66-53 win over Calhoun County. This season, the team downed Manchester in a hard-fought 67-63 win in the quarterfinals. The Warriors defeated Drew Charter 74-53 in the second round after a first-round bye.

Class A-Private – Friday, Columbus State University

Holy Innocents’ may have suffered nine losses during the regular season, but its postseason run has been impressive. The Golden Bears offense averaged 67.7 points during the regular season, a benchmark they have surpassed in each of their postseason wins. This is largely due to a newfound talent in Garrison Powell. The 6’3 freshman is averaging 15.5 points per game. St. Francis advanced to last year’s semifinals, but fell to Greenforest who went on to claim the title. Now back in their sixth-straight semifinals, the Knights will try to take this season one step further. Helping them achieve this will be Dwon Odom. The sophomore guard averages 15.1 points a game, and racked up 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists to get a triple-double during the quarterfinals.

Eagle’s Landing Christian took out last year’s champion Greenforest to advance to the semifinals. The No. 2 ranked Chargers are playing hard on both ends of the court. Mekhi Cameron has come alive, scoring 23 points and grabbing six rebounds during the quarterfinals matchup against Greenforest. Junior strong forward Malachi Rhodes has been averaging 14.5 points per game, and getting everything off the board. However, Aquinas has some playmakers of their own. Sophomore guard Zy Wright and senior guard Tre Gomillion have been lights out, combining for nearly half of the teams points in the quarterfinals. This rematch from the regular season will surely be a fast-paced contest.

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