By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
For the better part of three full quarters, it was classic Marist-Chamblee basketball. Tight ballgame. Low scoring. Raucous crowd.
And then it wasn’t that close anymore.
Marist (9-1, 5-0), ranked No. 7 in Class AAAA, went on a 11-0 spurt that spanned the final minutes of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, en route to a comfortable 61-44 win over its DeKalb County rival in the first of at least two meetings this season as both compete in Region 6-Division A. The win kept the War Eagles unbeaten thus far in league play, while Chamblee dropped to 6-3 overall, 3-2 in the region.
As usual, neither team could build a substantial lead in the early going, a patter that has become commonplace when the two schools meet. Last season, for example, Marist finished 20-8 overall, 8-2 in the region. Chamblee finished 20-9 and 8-2. The Bulldogs won two of the three games with the War Eagles, one of which was an overtime win, by a combined five points. Marists’ win in the series was by one point, also in overtime.
“That’s just how our games go,” said Marist head coach Greg McClaire. “Coach [Caesar] Burgess and I are about as close as two opposing coaches can be, probably too close. And the kids know and respect each other. A lot of them have grown up together and played on AAU teams together. We know each other so well that our games are always going to be close.”
But late in the third quarter, after a free throw by Marist guard Cam Wiley gave the War Eagles a 31-30 lead, Chamblee hit a rough patch. In the Bulldogs’ next four possessions they committed three turnovers and missed two free throws, and Marist took full advantage.
Wiley, who led all scorers with 17 points, converted a three-point play after being fouled on a layup, the result of the first Chamblee turnover. Then, following another Bulldog turnover, forward Dave Onuorah got the Marist crowd jacked up when he rebounded his own missed mid-range jumper, went up strong and jammed it home to push the War Eagle lead to 36-30 as the third quarter ended.
Dan Morrison opened the fourth quarter with a three-pointer for Marist, and after Chamblee turned the ball over once again, Morrison converted two free throws at the other end. The score went from 30-30 with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter, to 41-30 early in the fourth.
“They made a few mistakes at that moment in the game and we capitalized on it,” McClaire said. “If we had made those same mistakes, they would have taken advantage of it instead.”
Chamblee pulled to within seven, 41-34, midway through the period after a bucket by Daniel Graves. But the War Eagles put the game away by converting on its next three possessions – two free throws each by Wiley and Onuorah, and a three-pointer by guard Bobby Perez that came after Marist held the ball for more than a minute. The War Eagles held a 48-36 lead with just four minutes remaining and were in control the rest of the way, knocking down eight of their last 10 free throws.
But Marist won’t have time to savor the victory. The War Eagles travel to the south end of the county on Saturday to face No. 1 Columbia, the three-time state champs.
“We just have to play Marist basketball,” McClaire said of the game, which will be for first place in the sub region. “Everybody has already said that Columbia is going to win our side of the region anyway. That’s fine. All we can do is focus on doing the things that we do best and let the rest take care of itself.”
Marist (61) – Cam Wiley 17, Dan Morrison 15, Quinton Stephens 8, Bobby Perez 6, Brandon Young 5, Dave Onuorah 4, Grant Harrell 3, Greg Taboada 3
Chamblee (44) – Jade McClinton 15, Mamas Oglesby 10, Qutavius Byrd 6, Daniel Graves 5, Ryan Burgess 4, Tim Favors 2, Carlos Jones 2