Whether it was making the go-ahead shot or stretching out to make a key defensive play at the end, Carver Columbus senior A.J. Watts was the man of the hour on Friday.
Watts calmly knocked down a 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining to put the Tigers ahead. Then, with 2.9 seconds left and Americus-Sumter ready to inbound for a last-gasp chance to tie, Watts stealthily deflected the inbounds pass and denied any opportunity for a big finish.
It was enough to give No. 5 Carver a 58-55 win over No. 6 Americus-Sumter and secure the Class AAAA boys championship at the Macon Coliseum.
“We came in the game as underdogs,” Watts said. “The whole time, we were saying, if we play hard, if we stay strong, we’ll win. We’re a second-half team and we came out strong. We got a state championship.”
Watts led his team with 19 points, 15 coming in the second half. But none were as big as the 3-pointer from the right wing that drew nothing but net. It put Carver ahead 55-54 and set off a roar from the Columbus-heavy cheering section that rocked the roof on the old facility.
“I was feeling it,” Watts said. “My team trusted me. I’m the go-to guy and I’ve got to come through. As soon as it left my hands, I felt it … the crowd, everything. It was a perfect moment.”
Carver’s Jalen King hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final 12 seconds, but his final miss gave Americus-Sumter a chance with 2.9 seconds. But the Panthers had the inbounds pass knocked away by Watts and the buzzer sounded as the ball rolled out of bounds.
“Just finishing the game strong,” Watts said. We didn’t want them to get an easy shot.”
Carver (24-5) also got 18 points and three assists from Devin Flowers and 12 points and seven rebounds from King.
Americus-Sumter (24-5) was led by Joshua Lusane, who scored 19 points and had 10 rebounds. Quevoluia Willoughby added 10 points and seven rebounds and Wallace Bradley scored 10.
Americus-Sumter came out fast and scored the first seven points of the game. The Panthers led 13-8 after one quarter and led by as many as nine following Trae Brown’s layup with 4:44 that made it 17-8.
But Carver responded and got as close as one point when Jalen King scored on a layup with 31 seconds remaining to trim the lead to 21-20. Americus-Sumter added a pair of Wallace Bradley free throws and enjoyed a 23-20 lead at intermission.
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