Jordan Jones, the only senior on the St. Francis roster, didn’t look nervous when he was standing on the free throw line in the final minutes. Inside was a different matter.
“I was nervous, but I knew I had to make them,” Jones said. “The whole team was depending on me.”
Jones went 4-for-4 in the final 1:31 and helped the No. 3 Knights hold off No. 2 Aquinas 61-56 in the semifinal of the Class A – Private boys tournament at Kennesaw State. St. Francis will play for the championship on March 9 at 12:45 p.m. at the Macon Coliseum.
Jones finished with eight points and seven rebounds. He was particularly proud his heroics came at Kennesaw, where he will play next year.
“It was a big thing for me,” Jones said. “We lost in the Elite Eight last year and it was a terrible feeling. I didn’t want it to happen again.”
St. Francis (24-8) got out to an early lead and held a 21-11 advantage after Malik Beasley made a 3-pointer. But Aquinas (23-7) simply would not go away. The Fighting Irish clawed back to two points, but could never draw even, and St. Francis entered the final period with a 48-43 lead.
That’s when Aquinas guard Ahmed Hill took over. The 6-foot-5 junior scored the first five points for his team in the fourth quarter and the Irish tied the game at 50 on Mike Scott’s basket with 6:19 remaining.
St. Francis took the lead for good on two free throws by Kaiser Gates with 3:15 left. Aquinas trailed 59-56 and had the ball with 14.5 seconds left with one last chance to tie, but Hill and Antonio Clark each missed 3s and Jones got the rebound. Jones then closed the door with his final free throws with 1.8 seconds.
St. Francis got 20 points and eight rebounds from Beasley and 19 points from Kobi Simmons. Gates had a game-high 12 rebounds.
Aquinas was led by Hill, who had 20 of his 28 points in the second half and made four 3-pointers. The four-star prospect was being watched from the stands by Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory, one of many suitors who have already made an offer. Scott added 20 points and seven rebounds for Aquinas.
“We tried to keep a person on (Hill),” Jones said. “We always tried to get a hand in his face. But he’s good.”
Aquinas (56): Ruben Garnett 2, Mike Scott 21, Ahmed Hill 28, Shalom Alvarez 2, Antonio Clark 3
St Francis (61): Jordan Jones 8, Kobi Simmons 19, Malik Beasley 20, Keshawn Gibbs 2, Kaiser Gates 7, McKinley Brown3, Nathan Waller 2
Halftime: St. Francis 31-25