By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Perhaps the halftime shoot around is overrated.
After being down by as many as 25 points late in the second quarter, and trailing by 18 at the half, Grady head coach Brian Weeden kept his team in the locker room during the entire intermission period. By the time the Grey Knights came out it was time to take the floor.
And then they proceeded to take the game. Guard Avi Toomer’s three-pointer from the right wing with :03 seconds left in regulation sent the game into overtime tied at 64, and then center Brandon Watkins’ two-handed dunk with :06 seconds left in the extra period lifted Grady to a 72-70 win over South Atlanta. The Grey Knights, ranked No. 10 in the Class AAAA AJC Top 10, and the Hornets, ranked No. 6, are now tied for the early lead in Region 6-Division B.
“I just told them that I can’t go out and make plays for them,” Weeden, in his first year at Grady, said of his lengthy halftime speech. “All I can do is put them in position to make plays. We came out flat and intimidated.”
Indeed, Grady looked dead in the water early. South Atlanta led 18-8 after the first quarter, and 22-10 at the start of the second before a three by Grady’s Tyris Walker reduced the lead back to single digits.
But in a four-minute span the Hornets went on a 18-5 run, which included a 12-0 spurt, and pushed their lead to 40-15 with just over two minutes left in the half. South Atlanta employed a pesky two-three zone that kept plenty of bodies around the 6-foot-9 Watkins, who has committed to West Virginia. At the same time, the quick feet and active hands of South Atlanta guards D’Quantius Bloodworth, Derrick Byrd and Costa Anderson, made Walker and Toomer work hard to find open looks at the basket on the perimeter.
Offensively, the Hornets were red hot as Anderson’s three-pointer from the corner, followed by Jonathan Range’s three-point play on South Atlanta’s next possession produced the 25-point lead with two minutes left in the half.
Grady planted the seeds for its comeback by ending the second quarter on a 7-0 run that included a trey by Walker and buckets by Shawn Rushing and Jonathan Boatner. During the surge, that trimmed the South Atlanta lead to 40-22, the Grey Knights tightened up on defense.
“It’s my first year and so we’re still getting used to my system,” Weeden said. “We play hard, man-to-man defense for the full 94 feet of the court, and I told them that’s how we get back in the game, getting stops. When you get stops, the offense will come.”
And it came in abundance in the second half. Grady outscored South Atlanta 21-13 in the third quarter to pull within 10 points at the start of the fourth. An 11-4 run to start the period cut the Hornet lead to 57-54.
Range stopped the bleeding with a short jumper and then nearly held Grady off all by himself, scoring nine of South Atlanta’s 11 points in the quarter. His put back off the glass gave the Hornets a 64-59 lead with a minute left in regulation. On Grady’s next possession Range blocked an attempted dunk by Watkins with just :50 seconds left. But, with Grady retaining possession, Watkins made good on a short lay up. At the other end of the floor, Byrd missed the front end of a one-and-one with :15 second remaining. Grady took possession and Toomer’s trey sent the game into overtime as the crowd went berserk.
In the extra session, Grady led 70-66 with just :23 seconds left after a deep three-pointer by Walker and a free-throw by Chad Winfrey. But South Atlanta tied the game after a bucket by Anderson and a short jumper by Range, which came after a five-second inbound violation was called on Grady.
But following Range’s basket, the Hornets somehow lost sight of Watkins, who snuck behind the defense and dunked home the winning basket with just :06 seconds left.
South Atlanta (70) – Jonathan Range 24, Costa Anderson 15, Terrance Lindley 9, Naquavius King 6, Quendarian Miller 5, Kertiss Baisden 4, Derrick Byrd 3, D’Quantius Bloodworth 2, Trevion Webb 2.
Grady (72) – Tyris Walker 23, Brandon Watkins 16, Kevon Taylor 12, Avi Toomer 12, Marquavious Henry 4, Jonathan Boatner 2, Shawn Rushing 2, Chad Winfrey 1.