Bearing the burden of enormous expectations since last year’s elimination, there was a sense of pride – and relief – when the McEachern boys nailed down the Class AAAAAAA championship on Saturday night.
The Indians, with a roster loaded with experienced and talented players that has them rated No. 1 in the nation by some poll, were predicted – no, expected – to win the state championship. They skillfully finished the job, fittingly against the defending state champions, beating No. 2-ranked Meadowcreek 62-54 for the school’s first basketball title.
“I’m really relieved,” McEachern coach Mike Thompson said. “I thought some about being 31-1 and how those kids would have to carry that around, you know, how McEachern didn’t win a state championship. That would have been a shame, to have beaten the people we’ve beaten … but that would have been said.
“It just shows the competitiveness of that group, to fight and claw and not let it happen. They’re 32-0 and beat all the teams they’ve beat around the country. I don’t know if another Georgia team’s done that.”
The game took a physical bent from the beginning. It got chippy early and was flawed by an inordinate number of personal fouls. Meadowcreek committed 26 personals and had two players foul out. McEachern had 21 fouls and lost one player to fouls. Each team was assessed a technical foul.
McEachern got 20 points from Sharife Cooper, 17 in the first half, with four assists. Isaac Okoro score 16 and had four rebounds. Alyn Breed scored 15 points with six rebounds. Jared Jones had a team-high nine rebounds.
Meadowcreek (26-6) was led by Jalen Benjamin with 19 points. Jamir Chaplin added 13 points and Damien Dunn scored nine.
The Meadowcreek players were so frustrated with the outcome that they left the court at the end of the game and did not attend the runner-up ceremony. Coach Curtis Gilleylen was left to receive the trophy by himself.
“Our kids have been the limelight for long time,” Thompson said. “When they were younger, people talked about how good they were going to be and what they were going to do. They’ve dealt with it. They have a way of putting it in a box and dealing with what’s going on rather than letting it get in the way of what they’re doing.”
McEachern jumped out early, but Meadowcreek was able to catch the Indians and take a 15-11 lead on a layup by Jammonie Watkins-Causey with 1:40 left in the opening quarter. But fueled by a technical foul, McEachern went on a 10-0 run and eventually led 28-17 on a Jared Jones layup with 5:41 left in the half. The Indians held a 38-28 lead at halftime.
McEachern dominated the glass, outrebounding Meadowcreek 28-12. The Indians were successful at the line, making 19 of 25.
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