No matter what Cross Creek tried on Friday afternoon, the long arm of Woodward Academy’s Walker Kessler always seemed to be there.
The 7-foot-1 five-star prospect who has signed with North Carolina scored 17 points, but had a larger impact on the game with his defense and helped Woodward Academy to a 75-56 win over Cross Creek in the Class AAAA championship game at the Macon Coliseum.
It is the first boys basketball championship for the College Park school.
Kessler was 7-for-11 from the field, but his impact went far beyond the offensive end. He had eight rebounds, three assists, five blocked shots and caused countless Cross Creek shots to be altered.
“He is so selfless,” coach Anthony Thomas said. “He doesn’t mind helping others out defensively, he alters shots at the rim, he makes our guard’s job easier.
Kessler left the game with 1:11 remaining and immediately gave a celebratory bear hug to his Hall of Fame coach.
“When I got subbed out in the final minute, it finally set in right there and it felt great,” Kessler said. “We’ve been through so much together … getting knocked out in the Final Four. When you go through a struggle with someone like that you have a connection with them and there’s just no way to describe it.”
Playing Robin to Kessler’s Batman was 5-foot-9 guard Michael Whitmore, whose relentless defensive pressure bothered the Razorbacks all game. The senior finished with 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and five steals.
“Whitmore is a flat-out winner,” Thomas said. “He’s the best defender in the state. I’ll say that right now.”
Kessler said, “He’s the best point guard I’ve ever played with, one of the most unselfish people I know. He cares about the team more than anything.”
Woodward Academy (30-2) had three others score in double figures: Will Richards with 15 points and eight rebounds, Jacorrei Turner with 12 points and five rebounds, and Emory Lanier with 11 points.
Cross Creek (25-7) was led by all-state forward Kobe Stewart, who had 18 points and six rebounds, and Josh Dorsey, who added 10 points. The Augusta school was trying to win their first state championship.
Woodward never trailed in the first half and used a 6-0 run -- the final basket after a Whitmore steal that set up Richards’ 3-pointer – midway in the second period to take a 22-15 lead. The War Eagles led 27-21 at intermission.
The knockout punch came early in the third quarter courtesy of a 9-0 run that stretched the lead to 13 when Lanier’s basket made it 36-23 at 4:35.
“They had the idea to shut me off and they did that pretty well,” Kessler said. “But the team I’m on is such a good team and talented team that it didn’t have to go through me. We have six weapons … it’s like an arsenal … so in the end we were the better team.”
Woodward Academy (75): Jacorrei Turner 12, Emory Lanier 11, Will Richards 15, Michael Whitmore 13, Walker Kessler 17, Logan Stephens 7.
Cross Creek (56): Josh Dorsey 10, Andre Herbert 4, Amakhi Climons 2, Kobe Stewart 18, Corey Trotter 8, Devin Pope 3, Markell Ware 8, Dajuan Rouse 1, Jaquez Ellison 2.
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