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ATLANTA – If there was any doubt the South Atlanta Hornets were not going to be the 2017 Class AA champions during halftime, they definitely erased that disbelief in the third quarter.
Owning a 14-point lead at the break, South Atlanta held Swainsboro without a field goal for the entire third period on its way to a 68-33 victory and Class AA championship, the school’s second overall and first since 2009, at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion on March 11.
“This title means a lot,” South Atlanta coach Michael Reddick said. “We’ve been relevant–ranked in the top 10 or No. 1 in our classification, 11 of the last 16 years, but only had one state championship. That’s what we’ve been talking about all year. This year we have to finish. After an early season loss, the guys bought in and sacrificed their game. We’ve got guys who could average a lot more points but they sacrifice for each other, play for each other and it’s like a family. It means a lot for me to get it.”
Senior Devonta Pullins scored a game-high 20 points, junior Jalen Stegall added 15 and senior Tyler Thornton collected 11 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and four blocks for the Hornets, who won their 26th straight game.
Ahead 36-22 with a half of basketball left, South Atlanta (29-1) scored the first 12 points of the third. Junior Dondre Barnes (eight points and eight rebounds) started the blowout with a layup then Stegall added a shot from the arc while being fouled. Barnes converted another layin and Pullins nailed a 3 for a 47-22 lead.
After Japorre Worthan ended the run with a free throw with 4:05 left in the frame, Pullins drilled another 3-pointer and the Hornets closed the quarter on a 7-1 spurt, thanks to buckets by senior Acey Brown, Stegall and Thornton for a 58-24 advantage.
The Tigers (21-11) missed all 15 of their field-goal attempts in the third and were outscored 22-2 in the period.
“In the third quarter the defense picked up and our bigs came down and rebounded well,” Reddick said. “That’s what happens when you’ve got good players. It has nothing to do with coaching–that’s just good players.”
The final quarter of boys’ Class AA competition last just six minutes due to mercy rules and South Atlanta edged Swainsboro 10-9 in the scoring department.
The Hornets didn’t have a great shooting performance from the field either, connecting on just 36 percent of their attempts but the Tigers made only 19 percent (12-of-65) of their shots, including an 0-for-17 outing from the arc.
In the first quarter, South Atlanta scored the first seven points of the contest but only led 11-7 entering the second period. During the next eight minutes, the scoring picked up for both teams with the Hornets using a 19-7 burst during the first five minutes of the quarter to stretch their lead out for good.
Jaylan McKinney, a stocky 5-7 point guard with some impressive dribbling skills, did all he could to keep Swainsboro in the game in the first half. He scored 15 points overall and fellow junior Eddie Roberts grabbed 14 rebounds.