WARNER ROBINS 45, STEPHENSON 43 (BOYS)

The school that in football has won 24 region titles, including one last season, four state championships and two mythical national championships is heading to the state finals in basketball for the second time ever.

Junior forward Stephone Raybone made both ends of a one-and-one with six seconds left in regulation to provide what would be the winning points in a 45-43 win over Stephenson in a Class AAAAA semifinal Saturday afternoon at Fort Valley State.

Raybone missed an opportunity to tie the score at 42-42 with 22 seconds left, but he missed the first of two free throws. But at the other end, Jaguar senior Delmont Walton missed the front end of a one-and-one, and with eight seconds left, senior Nathan Curtis banked home a put-back.

“I knew we needed those shots,” Raybone said. “My teammates come up to me and told me they knew I had it, and that gave me a lot of confidence.”

“We practice that constantly, hitting free throws under pressure situations,” said Warner Robins coach Jamaal Garman. “(Raybone) is usually a good free-throw shooter, so I knew what he was going to do when he got another opportunity.”

Raybone said the practice drills prepared him for his big moment at the line.

“I was thinking about it when I (stepped to the line), all the running that coach makes us do in practice if we miss free throws,” he said. “All of that made me ready when it counted.”

Stephenson had a chance to send the game into overtime in the final three seconds, when after Raybone’s clutch free throws, Jaguars guard Juwan Henderson made the front end of his one-and-one on the other end of the floor. When he missed the bonus shot, teammate Montez Sweat (a tight end on the football team who signed with Vanderbilt) grabbed the rebound. But his put-back attempt tap-danced on the rim and wouldn’t fall as the buzzer sounded.

The game was a tightly contested battle between two football powers, and resembled a football game at times as each team played tough, physical defense. But Garman said it is time to recognize that Warner Robins can play a little basketball, too.

“It’s great that we have such a successful football program, but we want people to know what kind of athletes we have in Warner Robins,” Garman said.

“We’re a good basketball team, and we showed that tonight.”

Raybone agreed.

“People think (South Georgia) is just known for football,” said the junior defensive end. “They think Atlanta has all the basketball players. We showed tonight that the south can play basketball, too.”

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