By Robert Haddocks
Most of Greater Atlanta Christian’s current players “weren’t instrumental” when Manchester ended the Spartans’ quest for their third straight title in last season’s Final 8, coach Eddie Martin said. But that didn’t stop GAC from playing a tune on the Blue Devils, as the Spartans thrashed Manchester, 77-52, in the Class AA quarterfinals.
Players – and certainly coaches - tend to downplay the revenge factor. But the Spartans made it clear. They had a mission in mind all week. “That was our initial motivation, no doubt about it,” Martin said.
“We already had in our heads that we wanted to beat them and beat them by a lot,” said point guard Collin Swinton. “We had a bad game last year. But they can’t play with us.”
After a breakneck first quarter that saw the teams tied at 20-20, GAC settled down and sent that very message to Manchester, which had no answer for GAC’s Isaiah Wilkins. The 6-6 junior was a monster, finishing with 21 points, 20 rebounds and eight blocks. “He was blocking shots, changing shots and making it tough for them,” Martin said. “He’s really come into his own this year.”
Manchester managed little inside with the active, athletic Wilkins lurking. “We know if we get beat, we’ve got him standing back there blocking it,” Swinton said.
GAC (27-3) will play the winner of Laney-Macon at 8:30 Friday in Milledgeville.
Wilkins did most of his damage offensively in the first half when he scored 16 points (and blocked four shots). But the Spartans didn’t need his scoring in the second half after they gained control of the game. After Manchester trimmed the lead to 24-22 early in the second quarter, GAC went on a 25-5 run over the next eight minutes and led 49-27 minutes into the third period. Manchester, which trailed 42-27 at the half, never got closer than 16 points the rest of the way.
Wilkins was chiefly responsible for that, but he had plenty of help. After the frenetic first quarter, Swinton, the lone senior on the squad, settled down his teammates. He directed the offense, distributing the ball to Wilkins and others. The 5-7 guard fearlessly drove to the hole, scoring over much bigger defenders. Swinton finished with 19 points and Troy Morrison scored 15.
“(Swinton) was very steady,” Martin said. “You could tell he’s been through a lot of varsity basketball games. He finished at the rim and he was steady on defense. He was a real calming factor. He played outstanding.”
Wilkins, a humble kid who lets his play do the talking, said he wanted to win this game for last year’s seniors. “We told them that we were going to do it for them,” he said. Wilkins, who’s drawing attention from Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Georgia, said he feels “it’s time for me to step up.” He wants to lead the Spartans to their third title in four years, familiar territory for Martin.
“It was nice to beat (Manchester), but it’s just another step to get to where we want to be,” he said.
Manchester, 25-4, was led by Kevis Martin, who had 14 points.