In a game filled with flash and panache, it was steady, solid Sam Hines Jr. who made the difference for Wheeler and got the Wildcats across the finish line for the Class AAAAAAA championship.
The senior, who has signed with the University of Denver, scored 28 points to lead the Wildcats to a 60-59 win over top-ranked Grayson, a team ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation. He scored seven of the team’s final 14 points to help them overcome an eight-point deficit, including the winning free throw with 1.1 second remaining.
“I was just trying to slow down my breathing, just like I do in my workouts, and do the proper form,” Hines said. “I believe in my form and all my hard work I put in. So it worked.”
Hines, the Region 2 Player of the Year, was nearly perfect from the floor. He made 11 of 12 field goal tries and was 6-for-8 from the line, missing the last one intentionally. He had nine rebounds and two steals, with only one turnover.
“I’ve said all year that Sam is one of the best players in the state that people don’t talk about enough,” Wheeler coach Larry Thompson said. “Sam was a man today. The University of Denver is getting a heck of ball player. He’s everything. We ran a lot of stuff for him. He’s the best player in our league and he deserves all the accolades he’s going to get.”
Wheeler had the momentum and held a 42-31 lead with 2:34 left in the third quarter. But the volcanic Rams put on one of their familiar runs and outscored Wheeler 15-4 to take a two-point lead. After Wheeler tied the game at 46-46, Grayson scored eight straight and led 54-46 with 5:35 remaining. Many teams might have panicked in that situation, but Wheeler did not.
“I didn’t see any let up in those guys’ eyes and I knew we had a chance if we could get a basket on our next possession, we’d have a chance to win going down the stretch,” Thompson said. “
So Wheeler dug in and began clawing back, eventually tying it at 55-55 on a basked by Ja’Heim Hudson with 1:46 left.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Hines said. “We had to fight through the adversity and play hard as a team … get the rebound, box out, do the important things … and we made a run and we came up with the lead and won the game.”
Wheeler had a three-point lead when Grayson’s Toneari Lane made a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to tie it. Wheeler rushed it downcourt and Prince Davies missed a shot, but Hines secured the rebound and was fouled. He made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second one.
Grayson had 1.1 seconds under its own basket left but Caleb Murphy’s three-quarter length shot was wide and Wheeler had claimed its seventh state championship, the first since 2015.
Maxwell Harris added 10 points for Wheeler (24-7).
Grayson (30-2) was led by Lane, who came off the bench to score 18. Caleb Murphy scored 13 and Deivon Smith added 11 points and seven assists.
The game was fairly even except for free throw shooting. Wheeler was 14-for-18 (77.8 percent) but Grayson made only 10 of 19 (52.8 percent). Grayson was 2-for-5 at the line in the final four minutes.
“Our guys took the coaching and prepared the way they’re supposed to prepare,” Thompson said. “And they’re state champion and nobody can ever take it away from them.”
Wheeler (60): Prince Davies 8, Ja’Heim Hudson 8, Nash Kelly 6, Sam Hines Jr. 28, Maxwell Harris 10.
Grayson (59): Caleb Murphy 13, Josh Smith 3, Ian Schieffelin 6, Deivon Smith 11, Toneari Lane 18, Taje Kelly 2.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.