Down by as many as 18 in the second half, South Atlanta needed a spark.
It came from Derrick Byrd.
The junior scored 14 of his team-high 23 points in the third quarter, as the Hornets charged back from a sluggish start to beat No. 1 Columbia 74-73 in the Region 6-AAAA final.
With 6:30 left in the third quarter, No. 5 South Atlanta (24-4) trailed the Eagles 42-24, getting outrebounded by a dozen and struggling to sustain any sort of consistent offense.
Meanwhile, Columbia’s Taaj Shamsid-Deen had 18 points on the other end of the floor and was getting to the basket whenever he wanted.
But Byrd got the comeback started with a 3-point play at 6:21, followed by a jumper that seemed to give South Atlanta life, kicking off a 25-10 run to finish the quarter to cut the lead to 52-49.
For Byrd, it was a chance to assert himself and help his team, and he showed he could be up to the task.
“I think he grew up a little more tonight,” South Atlanta coach Michael Reddick said. “We’ve seen it in practice. I mean, he’s a competitor. But tonight, we always said the top two point guards in the region were playing against each other (Byrd and Shamsid-Deen) and, that third quarter, he stepped up.”
In the fourth, the teams went back and forth until four straight South Atlanta free throws gave the Hornets control, and they never again relinquished the lead. Shamsid-Deen, who finished with a game-high 29 points, made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the game its final score. Teammate Kyle Wallace had five 3-pointers and finished with 24 points.