The Class AAAAAAA region tournaments didn’t produce many upsets, but they had some incredible endings, two in particular that decided boys champions in games between top-10 teams.
In the first, on Friday night, No. 2 Norcross defeated No. 6 Meadowcreek 53-52 on a last-second 3-point shot by Kyle Sturdivant to win Region 7.
Then on Saturday night, No. 4 Pebblebrook defeated No. 9 Wheeler 61-60 on a last second-shot by Grant Howard to win Region 2.
(Both winning shots can be seen below, each captured by Sports Broadcasting Network, which live streams games.)
In the Pebblebrook-Wheeler game, Pebblebrook trailed 60-59 with seven seconds left and was inbounding on its end of the court. Wheeler made a steal, but Dwight Murray chased down the thief and recovered the ball on the Wheeler end. He passed to Howard, who dribbled nearly the length of the floor and made the game-winner just inside the lane.
‘’We are learning how to fight, love, trust and grow,’’ Pebblebrook coach George Washington said, repeating messages he’s certainly preached to his players this season.
The dramatic shot brought back memories of the 2017 region final against Westlake. In that one, Collin Sexton, now a freshman phenom at Alabama, hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime, and Pebblebrook won from there.
The 2018 shot was even wilder and more unpredictable. Pebblebrook doesn’t have any five-star recruits this season, just a bunch of good players that have them riding a 22-game winning streak. Washington explained Monday how things unfolded at the end.
‘’You have to go back to the play before,’’ he said. “We wanted to get it to Mervin [James, the team’s leading scorer.] We ran a sideline play. He was wide open. Wheeler player kick the ball.
‘’The next play was to run an elevator for screen for Dwight Murray. Wheeler played it perfect and got the steal, but we have so much fight that Dwight did not give up on the play.’’
Murray passed quickly to Howard, who did the rest. Howard had a premonition about a winning shot.
‘’The crazy thing is at shoot around that day Grant kept saying he was going to hit the game-winner,’’ Washington said. “He also wore Collin’s shorts from last year. The guys just never quit and remained calm.’’
Norcross had even less time – 2.7 seconds – and trailed by two points before its unlikely finish against Meadowcreek. And unlike Pebblebrook, Norcross didn’t need to ad-lib anything. It went as planned.
Inbounding at halfcourt, Norcross sophomore Brandon Boston throw to the opposite corner, where Georgia signee JoJo Toppin caught it and threw quickly to his right to Sturdivant, who banked it home in the nick of time.
‘’The last play unfolded exactly like a scenario we practice once or twice a week throughout the season,’’ Norcross coach Jesse McMillan said. “Our plan is to always advance the ball to half-court (if possible) to create a much more manageable opportunity to score. We executed the final play well (to an extent) - Sturdivant's shot would have been completely wide open, but we missed one additional screen in our execution.’’
Was the plan for the shot to go off the backboard? Maybe. Maybe not. Only Sturdivant knows. Said McMillan, ‘’I think the bank shot was just a case of him being overly dramatic.’’
Couldn’t get more dramatic than that.
Here are the big shots.
The first is a banker by Kyle Sturdivant. Brandon Boston inbounded the ball. Give JoJo Toppin the assist.
And here’s Grant Howard’s game-winner against Wheeler. Dwight Murray got the ball back for Pebblebrook, then pased to Howard.