Macon – Miller Grove made history on Friday night when it became the first Georgia High School Association boys basketball team to win five straight state championships.
The No. 1-ranked Wolverines did it by taking down No. 8 Gainesville 61-57 on Friday night at the Macon Coliseum. The victory allowed Miller Grove to break a tie with Lanier (1925-28) and Westover (1990-93), the other programs that had won four straight titles.
Miller Grove (30-3) was led by freshman Alterique Gilbert with 19 points, Keith Pickney with 14 and Earl Bryant with 13. Gainesville (23-10) got 19 points and eight rebounds from Shanquan Cantrell, 13 points from Luke Moore and 12 from Deshaun Watson.
“I can’t be more proud of these guys,” said Miller Grove coach Sharman White. “We’re trying to be the best program in the nation, not just the best in Georgia.”
The Wolverines completed the season without losing to another Class AAAAA team. They finished the season with a 19-game winning streak, losing its last game by two points to Westchester, Calif., on Dec. 27. Miller Grove’s last playoff loss was to Fayette County in the 2008 semifinals.
The win didn’t come easily. Gainesville broke out of the blocks with a flurry and took a 7-2 lead into the under-four minute television timeout on a 3-pointer by Watson. Miller Grove hit only one of its first nine field goal tries.
But that two-minute stoppage in play gave Miller Grove a chance to get its bearings and the Wolverines responded with one of their offensive flurries that fans have come to expect. Miller Grove got its transition game in gear and went on a 10-2 binge to take a 12-9 lead, which wound up being 14-11 after one quarter.
Gainesville responded quickly with three consecutive 3-pointers to open the second period to take a 20-16 lead. The Red Elephants were able to control the tempo of the game and prevent Miller Grove from running. By halftime Gainesville had regained the momentum and had taken a 25-19 lead. Gainesville shot only 34.6 percent for the first half, but limited Miller Grove to 32 percent and outrebounded the Wolverines 21-14.
The entertaining second half saw both sides land blows, only to have the other side respond. Gainesville led by as many as six points, only to have Miller Grove tie the game with an 8-2 stretch. And in the fourth quarter with the teams exchanging the lead three times, Miller Grove used a 6-0 run to take a 54-49 lead.
Gainesville battled back and cut the lead to 59-57 on a pair of free throws by Cantrell. Watson then stole the inbounds pass and Caleb Hayman was fouled. But Hayman missed two free throws with 21.2 seconds left and James Walker cleared the rebound, his ninth of the night and got the outlet pass to Gilbert, who scored on an easy layup to seal the victory.
“We’ve been in this position before and we took the challenge on where we had to make plays,” White said. “They’ve done a terrific job all year having to make up for not having any superstars. Not many people in our region thought we could do this and we took it as a challenge.”
Gainesville had its 15-game winning streak broken. The Red Elephants had won four straight state playoff games by a total of seven points, including a one-point semifinal win over Effingham County. Gainesville was trying to win its first state championship since 1984. Gainesville was trying to become the first school to win a state football and basketball title in the same school year since Mitchell-Baker in 1989-90.
Gainesville (57): Harrison 2, Watson 12, Moore 13, Cantrell 19, England 5, Hayman 6.
Miller Grove (61): Pickney 14, Walker 4, Bryant 13, Hamer 9, Gilbert 19, Richardson 2