No. 1-ranked Wheeler got a game-high 29 points from Jaylen Brown to beat Tucker 74-64 in the Class AAAAAA semifinal at McCamish Pavilion on Saturday.
Wheeler (29-2) will play Pebblebrook in the state final next weekend in Macon.
One of the main catalysts for Wheeler taking over in the second half was Brown. The 6-foot-7, 217-pound forward who’s arguably the state’s top senior prospect, is a load for any opponent to deal with. And sixth-ranked Tucker didn’t have the size to match up.
During Wheeler’s 14-0 third-quarter run that turned the game in its favor, Brown scored 7 straight points, including a powerful layin plus a foul while barreling over a Tucker defender. He scored 20 of his points after halftime.
Still, even after a run that grew to 16-2 in Wheeler’s favor, Tucker (29-3) didn’t go quietly. The Tigers made some big shots in the final minutes of the third quarter to close to gap to 6, starting the fourth quarter down just 52-46.
But Wheeler turned its defense up a notch over the final 8 minutes. Tucker didn’t manage a field goal for nearly the first 4 minutes of the quarter, by which time the Wildcat lead had swelled to 13, largely on the back of 7-of-8 free-throw shooting for the Wildcats.
Meanwhile, Tucker was cold at the line, missing 8 of their first 12 fourth-quarter free throws, missing an opportunity to keep the game within reach late. And the Tigers’ 7-of-21 shooting from 3-point range didn’t help them when they needed to score points in bunches to match Wheeler’s explosive offense.
Early, though, neither team could pull away in the first half. Wheeler jumped on top 9-2, but Tucker quickly regained its footing and kept pace the remainder of the half.
The sixth-ranked Tigers eventually matched that 7-point lead after a 9-2 run midway through the second quarter put them up 26-19 following a 3-pointer and then 2 free throws from Bryce Brown.
Likewise, though, the Wildcats quickly turned momentum back in their favor and closed the gap going into halftime.
One of the biggest factors helping Tucker in the first half was turnovers, as their aggressive defense and quick guards were able to force Wheeler into a number of mistakes, leading to 11 turnovers. Those often turned into points on the other end of the court.
Leading the Tigers in scoring was Bryce Brown, who collected 17 of his 27 points in the second half. Wheeler finished hitting 25 of 36 free throws, while Tucker made 18 of 30. Three Tucker players fouled out.
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