Franklin County’s boys basketball team made the Class AAA playoffs thanks to an at-large berth after failing to finish in the top four of their region tournament. Now, they’re in the sweet 16 after upsetting seventh-ranked Central-Macon 45-43 on the road in the first round.

Boys basketball: A look back at first round, ahead to sweet 16

Nine ranked teams and one defending champion were among the casualties in the first round of the boys state basketball tournament last weekend. And it’s about to get more dicey for the top teams.

The second round, to be played Wednesday and Thursday, will have 16 games between top-10 teams.

No. 1-ranked teams Tri-Cities of AAAAAA, Upson-Lee of Class AAAA and Morgan County of AAA now must beat ranked opponents this week to survive.

Already dismissed is two-time Class AAAAAA champion Langston Hughes. Also gone are No. 5 East Coweta of AAAAAA and No. 4 Sprayberry of AAAA, teams that were ranked as high as No. 2 during the regular season, each poised to advance for the first time in over 25 years.

But no history was made on those fronts. Instead, some of the happiest winners in the first round were Marietta, Franklin County, Gainesville, Denmark and Hephzibah, to name a few.

Here’s a look back at round one and a look ahead to round two.

(For a look back/look ahead on the girls state tournament, click here.)

Upsets: The most surprising first-round boys results were Marietta’s 64-50 victory over No. 7 Westlake in AAAAAAA and Franklin County’s 45-43 win over No. 7 Central-Macon in AAA. Westlake was coming off an impressive tournament victory in Region 2-AAAAAAA, which houses four ranked teams. Marietta (16-13) had lost five of its last six games. But it was the Blue Devils who advanced with a game against unranked Roswell (23-5) for a berth in the quarterfinals. Franklin County (14-13) finished fifth in Region 8-AAA but got the class’s lone at-large berth and stunned Central. Franklin County had lost in the first round each of the past four seasons. Meanwhile in AAAAAA, two-time defending champion Langston Hughes, ranked No. 9, lost to unranked Gainesville in rematch of a 2018 state-title game. Other ousted top-10 teams are No. 5 East Coweta of AAAAAAA (beaten by No. 1 McEachern), No. 4 Sprayberry AAAAAA (by No. 8 Chattahoochee), No. 8 Druid Hills and No. 7 Henry County of AAAA (by No. 5 Carver-Columbus and No. 9 Dougherty, respectively), No. 5 Pace Academy of AAA (by No. 8 Hart County) and No. 9 Butler of AA (by Thomasville).

First-time advancers: Denmark is a first-year school in Forsyth County with no seniors on its basketball roster. The Danes won their first region title last week. Now they’ve won their first state-playoff game. As the No. 1 seed from 7-AAAA, Denmark beat Ridgeland 70-46 in the first round. Other boys teams that won state-playoff games for the first time were Cambridge, Discovery, Hebron Christian, Kell, Pinecrest Academy and Woodland-Stockbridge. 

Drought-breakers: Hephzibah (16-10) broke a 38-year drought between victories in the state tournament with a 70-53 victory over Berrien in Class AA. Playing down two classifications this year because of enrollment decline, the Rebels earned the No. 2 seed out of Region 4-AA. They had lost four first-round games and missed the tournament altogether 33 other times since a Class AAA quarterfinal finish in 1981. Rome (17-12) got its first win in the tournament since 2008. The Wolves upset Region 6-AAAAA tournament champion Riverwood 60-55. Other teams that ended long droughts were Athens Academy (2009), Bremen (2006), Chattahoochee County (2008), Cherokee (2008), Cross Creek (2002) and Houston County (2006).

Region sweeps: Three regions went 4-0 in the first round. Region 8-AAAAAAA (Grayson, Newton, Shiloh, Archer) swept Region 5 (Milton, West Forsyth, Lambert, Forsyth Central). Region 7 (Kell, Villa Rica, Carrollton, Rome) swept Region 6 (Riverwood, Banneker, Jackson-Atlanta, Lithia Springs). Region 7-AAAA (Denmark, Marist, Blessed Trinity, West Hall) swept Region 6 (Southeast Whitfield, Heritage-Ringgold, LaFayette, Ridgeland). 

Best second-round game: That’s got to be a tie. No. 4 Norcross plays at No. 3 Grayson in AAAAAAA while No. 2 Greater Atlanta Christian plays at No. 1 Morgan County. Norcross and GAC, schools about five miles apart in Gwinnett County, each finished second in tough regions. Norcross lost to defending state champion Meadowcreek in 7-AAAAAAA while GAC – the defending AAA champion – lost to No. 3 Dawson County in the 5-AAA final. 

Other games to watch: Fourteen other round-of-16 games match top-10 teams. They are ...

No. 9 Newton at No. 2 Meadowcreek (AAAAAAA)

No. 8 Chattahoochee at No. 1 Tri-Cities and No. 2 Alexander at No. 3 South Cobb (AAAAAAA)

No. 9 Dougherty at No. 10 Thomson and No. 6 Americus-Sumter at No. 1 Upson-Lee (AAAA)

No. 10 Westside-Macon at No. 6 Windsor Forest (AAA)

No. 7 Washington County at No. 8 Laney and No. 3 Vidalia at No. 10 Early County (AA)

No. 6 Greene County at No. 8 Irwin County, No. 10 Montgomery County at No. 4 Hancock Central and No. 5 Terrell County at No. 7 Pelham (A public)

No. 5 Holy Innocents’ at No. 4 Mount Bethel Christian, No. 6 Walker at No. 10 Riverside Military and No. 9 Mount Pisgah Christian at No. 2 Eagle’s Landing Christian (A private).

What’s next: The quarterfinals are Feb. 26-27. That marks the first round in which region champions and same-seeded teams can face each other. Home-court advantage will be decided by a universal coin flip held in the GHSA offices on Tuesday. The higher-seeded team is home in all other cases. The semifinals will be March 2 on neutral courts, and the finals are March 6-9 in Macon.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

X