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NORCROSS (GA) – In the second round of the playoffs, the competition usually gets a little tighter and it did for Greater Atlanta Christian and Pace Academy.
Although the game was back and forth with not much separating these two teams on the scoreboard, the No. 1-seeded Spartans managed to squeeze by the No. 2-seeded Knights 57-54 at home during the 2018 GHSA Class AAA playoffs on February 21.
“Both teams kind of made each other not play great,” Greater Atlanta Christian coach David Eaton said. “I told my guys yesterday you have to have the heart of a champion to win a game like we are about to play against Pace. They did that. No matter what. They got down a little and up a little. They just kept playing hard. They found a way to win.”
In the first half, GAC led the entire 16 minutes by the slimmest margin and by as many as seven points. But after the break, the lead changed 16 times but for final time with 1:11 remaining.
“We really thrive on getting stops on defense but Pace was patient, got some really good shots and out toughed us in some spots,” Eaton said. “They made some tough shots and it allowed them to get five guys back on defense so it really slowed us down a little bit. Their execution made it a back and forth pace.”
After Josh Mininberg (seven points) nailed a 3-pointer to put Pace Academy ahead 51-50, Hunter McIntosh (22 points) sank his sixth and seventh free throws 13 seconds later for a one-point GAC (25-3) advantage.
Following an all-out dive for a loose ball by Chris Hinton (16 points, nine rebounds) and three foul shots from Roy Dixon to stretch the margin to four, senior Isaiah Kelly (13 points) nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key for a 55-54 score with 22 seconds remaining.
“Chris did that earlier this year in a big win for us,” Eaton said. “Chris does that. He is an All-American football player and he’s a great basketball player. He’ll score, play defense and he gets on the floor if he has to. All of our players are like that. It’s a great group of guys. That is a chance to win the game and get the ball back. They don’t care if it hurts their bodies a little bit they are going to dive and do it.”
But three seconds later, McIntosh, who made all nine of his foul shots, extended the Spartans’ lead back to three. On the other end of the floor, Kelly missed the game-tying shot but Ben Sheppard kept the door open by misfiring on two foul shots with eight seconds left.
However, Mininberg didn’t get a good look on the other end, resulting in his shot from the wing being well off the mark as time expired.
Despite having more of a football-player build, Hinton displayed a unique ability to go up strong but kiss the ball off the glass with the right amount of touch, resulting in a number of successful layups.
“I use my size to my advantage because a lot of kids in basketball really can’t handle my size,” said the 6-4 Hinton. “So once I get my body on them from there it is pretty easy and I use a soft touch around the rim.”
For Pace Academy, the third quarter was one to remember for freshman Cole Middleton, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the frame. Myles Todd added 10 points and Jaquari Wiggles grabbed nine rebounds for the Knights (17-12).