Freshman K’Lya Hankerson, held scoreless for almost 31 minutes in the Class AAA girls basketball championship game Thursday at the Macon Coliseum, made a key 3-pointer and two free throws in the final 1:19 to lead Johnson-Savannah to a 54-50 victory over Hart County.
The victory gave Johnson its second consecutive state and made the Atom Smashers the first team to repeat in Class AAA since St. Pius in 2013 and 2014.
With the game tied 48-48, Hankerson took a pass on the left wing and made her only 3-point attempt of the night, giving the Atom Smashers the lead for the final time, 51-48 with 1:21 remaining. With 19 seconds left, she made two free throws to make it a 53-48 game, giving Johnson all the cushion it needed.
“As a freshman, can you imagine the types of emotions she’s going through, mentally, emotionally, in this atmosphere? That’s hard to imagine,” Johnson coach Brandon Lindsey said. “I can’t even imagine that as a grown man. And she had missed the front end of a one-and-one on the last one. That’s just composure and poise. That’s basketball.”
Fourth-ranked Johnson (22-8) led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, but No. 3 Hart County (25-7) had narrowed the deficit to one point just before halftime until J’Mya Cutter’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Johnson a 29-25 lead at the break. Antalazia Baker’s layup to open the third quarter extended Johnson’s lead to 31-25, but a Torrian Starks layup cut the deficit back to four points. Neither team led by more than five points the rest of the game. Hart County’s biggest lead of the game came on another Starks layup that put the Bulldogs ahead 42-39 with 5:45 remaining.
“That’s what you desire a state championship to be like, right here,” Lindsey said. “My nerves are just all over the place right now. Hart County’s a well-coached team, and they came out to play tonight. This was a heck of a ballgame, and my girls, they were just resilient and refused to go down tonight.”
Jasmine Thompson helped the Atom Smashers build a six-point lead in the first quarter, when she scored 11 of her team’s 13 points. Thompson went on to finish with 20 points and eight rebounds. Cutter, the Region 3 player of the year, scored 13 points and had five steals.
Starks, the Region 8 player of the year and a Western Kentucky signee, came in with a 27.2 scoring average but was held to a little more than half that, finishing with 15 points. She had scored 34 in the Bulldogs’ semifinal victory against top-ranked Beach.
“I wasn’t gonna let her score 35 on me ... no, no,” Lindsey said with a laugh. “I figured if we could cut her scoring in half, I like our chances. She’s a tremendous talent, and she’s hard to stop. I was being funny when I said that earlier. You can only hope to contain a talented kid like that, because she’s going to get her points.”
Hart County’s scoring leader was Taniya Alexander, who was shut out in the first quarter but finished with a game-high 21 points. Alexander was instrumental in helping the Bulldogs stay close, with two stretches in which she scored six consecutive points for her team. She also had 11 rebounds.
Hart County (50): A’Cira Teasley 7, Torrion Starks 15, Shakendra Grove 5, Sydney Ertzgerger, Taniya Alexander 21, Tanyiah Merritt, Nakia Hailey, Abbygail McLane, Tanyzia Teasley 2.
Johnson (54): Antalazia Baker 4, J’Mya Cutter 13, Jasmine Thompson 20, Zoriah Mobley 4, K’Lya Hankerson 5, Tiana Williams, Checobia Hugie 8, Amani Hamilton.
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