The Pace Academy boys won the Class 2A championship for the second consecutive year. It came in a convincing manner, a 73-42 victory over Columbia on Thursday afternoon at the Macon Coliseum.

But the underlying question remains: Are the Knights the best team in the state, regardless of classification?

“I believe we’re the best team in the state,” said senior Matthew Cleveland, who signed to play at Florida State. “You can put us up against anyone. We can compete. We can win. We’d like to play all the teams that think they’re better than us and show them they’re not.”

Pace Academy won 28 consecutive games after losing the season opener to Sandy Creek, which will play for the Class 3A title Friday. Pace Academy had impressive non-league games against Class 7A powers Grayson and North Gwinnett, as well as traditional powers Marist, Tucker and Hughes. There might have been others had COVID-19 not messed up the original schedule.

“I feel like a lot of teams didn’t want to play us,” said senior Madison Durr, whose sister, Asia, won two state championships at St. Pius, in 2006-07. “If you ask me if we’re the best team in the state, of course I’m going to say yes.”

Pace Academy jumped on Columbia early and had a 16-9 lead at the end of the first quarter, but allowed the Eagles to hang around, even though the score was 29-21 at halftime.

It all came undone for Columbia in the third quarter, when Pace Academy opened with 10 consecutive points and outscored the Eagles 15-1 to set aside any notions of an upset. Pace Academy won the third quarter 34-7.

“We’ve had a slow start in a few games in the state tournament, so we put an emphasis on coming out strong,” Cleveland said.

Durr said, “We understand what it took last year. We knew if we wanted to go out the right way and make that final statement, we had to start hitting.”

Pace Academy (28-1) was led by Cleveland, the Region 6 Player of the Year, who had 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and five blocked shots. Durr talled 15 points and five assists, and Josh Reed added 14 points and eight rebounds. Cleveland State signee Cole Middleton had nine points and two monster slams that shook the shot clock on top of the basket.

Columbia (21-7) got nine points each from Kawasiki Ricks and Mason Lockhart. Julius Lymon had a game-high 10 rebounds.

“We’ve been working for this for nine months, and all the hard work paid off,” Cleveland said. “We didn’t like how we lost the first game. We weren’t really a team then. We just put it together, kept practicing and trusting our coaches and teammates, and it got us here.”


Columbia – 9-12-7-14 - 42

Pace Academy – 16-13-34-10 - 73

Columbia: Julius Lymon 4, Kawasiki Ricks 9, Mason Lockhart 9, Julius Coleman 7, Myles Lockhart 2, Rashad Headges 5, Kevin Bruce 2, Jamarcus Hatcher 4.

Pace Academy: Matthew Cleveland 24, Josh Mininberg 6, Madison Durr 15, Cole Middleton 9, Josh Reed 14, Matthew Aronson 1, Frank Caldwell 2, Davis Rice 1, Justin Johnson 1.