Class AAAAAA Boys: Westlake 85, Lovejoy 60

Grayson struck a mighty blow for all of the four seeds in the state tournament, with a 59-58 upset of defending Class AAAAAA champion Wheeler.

But across town in south Fulton, another No. 1 seed, Westlake, would have none of it. The Lions (23-4) pounced on Lovejoy (8-18) early and cruised to an 85-60 win at The Lion’s Den.

Westlake, the top seed from Region 3, started fast, bolting out to a 12-0 lead, which the Lions pushed to 22-2 before ending the first quarter ahead 26-5. Westlake shot the ball fairly well, but the early dispatching of the Wildcats was keyed by the Lions’ defense. In the first quarter alone Westlake had five blocks and four steals.

“We know that going into the tournament defense has to be our key,” Westlake head coach Darron Rogers said after the win. “I was very happy with the way we came out and played defense early.”

In that devastating first quarter, the Lions were led by senior guard/forward Raquan Wilkins, who finished the period with 11 points and two blocks. Junior guard Daniel Lewis chipped in with nine. His deep three-pointer less than 10 seconds into the game got things started for Westlake.

“This team likes to score,” said Rogers, who led Westlake to state championships in 1999 and 2002. “But our state championship teams were built around defense. That is what we have been trying to instill into this team, that defensive mindset.”

Rogers drove that point home to his young club – Wilkins is one of just three seniors on the roster – late in the second quarter. Westlake led 34-10 after a bucket by Charvies Hunter, one of a quartet of talented freshmen on the squad (D’Antaye Page, Chase Hunter and Brandon Barron are the others). But Lovejoy went on an 11-2 spurt, keyed by back-to-back threes by Trevin Williams and Antonio Byrd, to trim the deficit to 36-21 with a little over two minutes remaining in the half.

Rogers, who had subs in for all five starters early in the second quarter, sent his front line players back out onto the floor to finish the half. Lovejoy, which was paced by Terry Jenkins’ 15 points and Williams’ 11, outscored Westlake in the period, 18-14.

“They’re all young and they get excited and everybody wants their points,” Rogers said of the young unit he had on the floor, which also included 6-foot-9 sophomore forward/center Kelvin Simeon. “But we told them, if we get a lead they better maintain that defensive intensity or we would get them out of there.”

The Wildcats hung in with Westlake in the third quarter, as the Lions outscored them by just seven points, 27-20. But the gap was too wide to warrant any serious thoughts of an upset.  A three-point play by Wilkins after he was fouled converting a monstrous one-handed dunk, pushed the Westlake lead to 57-37 with just under two minutes left in the third. That was as close as the Wildcats would get the rest of the night.

Wilkins, who is being recruited by East Carolina and a host of other NCAA Division I mid- major programs, led four Lions in double figures with his game-high 20. Sophomore guard James Lewis added 15 points, junior forward Chuma Okeke had 13, and Daniel Lewis finished with 11.

Westlake will now host Norcross (26-3), the No. 2 seed from Region 7, in Round 2, Saturday. The Blue Devils held off South Forsyth 45-37, Wednesday night.

Earlier in the evening the Westlake girls (24-5), the No. 2 seed from Region 3, eliminated Lovejoy, 76-61, as junior forward Rakeah Williams led all scorers with 27 points.