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SUWANEE (GA) – There were some clutch shots made between North Gwinnett and East Coweta but RJ Godfrey made the biggest of them all.
Pushing his scoring total to 19 points, Godfrey nailed the decisive free throw in a thrilling 66-65 win by North Gwinnett over East Coweta in double overtime of the second round of the 2020 GHSA Class 7-A state playoffs on February 20.
After stunning shots by Matt Gilbert (six points, four steals) and Chris Youngblood (20 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) for their respective teams at the end of regulation, the second overtime surprisingly didn’t contain one field goal but a single foul shot.
With 1:17 remaining and the score tied at 65, Godfrey, who also had seven rebounds, four blocks and three steals, missed the first of his two free throws. But his second attempt was on target, giving the Bulldogs a one-point advantage.
“It was clutch time so I just had to help my team win,” Godfrey said.
Nearly a minute later, Godfrey was called for a traveling violation to give the ball back to the Indians but the Bulldogs redeemed themselves by forcing a jump ball to regain possession. Then with 12 seconds to play, North Gwinnett dribbled away the clock while East Coweta seemed unsure who would commit a foul and Brendan Rigsbee (12 points) tossed the ball high in the air to drain the remaining seconds before the buzzer sounded.
Up next in the Elite Eight, the Bulldogs will face McEachern, the defending champions.
As far as regulation, North Gwinnett appeared to have this tightly contested game wrapped up in the final seconds when JR Martin (17 points, including five 3-pointers, and seven assists) quickly swung a pass to the corner to Gilbert, who buried the 3 from the corner with 10 seconds left for a 60-57 lead.
“You know what is crazy about that is that JR has been on varsity for three years and Matt Gilbert has only been on varsity for one year but that just shows you the trust and brotherhood they have,” North Gwinnett coach Matt Garner said. “We talked about starring in your role. That sign is in our locker room and Matt starred in his role. They closed out strong to JR and JR made the right basketball play. Matt is our fifth leading scorer in the starting lineup. We don’t run any offense to get Matt the ball but he got the look and knocked it down.”
Then the game seemed over for sure on the other end when Gilbert drew an offensive foul call and fifth personal foul against Brandon Stroud (20 points, nine rebounds, five assists) with 4.4 seconds remaining. But on the ensuing possession before the ball was inbounded, Martin committed an offensive foul, which was his fifth as well, and East Coweta regained possession.
As a result, Youngblood threw the inbounds pass to Austen Colton, received it back, took one dribble to his right and pulled up well behind the 3-point line to drill the shot over two defenders, tying the score at 60 as time expired.
“Big shot by Chris Youngblood at the end but that was probably the craziest game I played in my life,” Godfrey said. “My heart was racing.”
“Everyone in this building thought the game was over with and Youngblood was like ‘No, not yet,”‘ Garner said. “Luckily we were able to take him out of his comfort zone a little bit in overtime. I think RJ did a good job of matching up on him, making him take some difficult shots. We made some big shots at times but at the end of the day we won because we guarded at the end.”
In the first overtime, Godfrey carried the Bulldogs’ offense and Youngblood pulled the Indians even at 65 with a pair of free throws. After forcing a tie up against Godfrey in the waning seconds, the Indians had a chance to win as the buzzer sounded but Samuel Moss’ heave from the half-court line was well off the mark.
The only real separation between these two teams came early in the fourth quarter when North Gwinnett stretched its lead to 52-43 following a 3-pointer by Martin with 5:25 left to play. But just under two minutes later, East Coweta scored seven straight points to close the gap and remain within a possession of tying or taking the lead the rest of the way.
Jared Ivey was a force in the paint once again, notching 10 points, seven boards and three blocks for the Bulldogs.