Knights lose heart-breaker in state playoff opener

The Southerner

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By Taylor Jones

The boys varsity basketball team suffered a devastating 56-55 double-overtime loss to host Allatoona High School on Saturday Feb. 26 in the first round of the Georgia High School Association 3A State Basketball Tournament.

Senior Emory Barnard’s driving layup with 10 seconds left in the second overtime gave the Grey Knights a 54-52 lead, and Grady appeared headed to the second round after Brandon Watkins rebounded a Buccaneer missed shot and was fouled with six seconds remaining.

The apparent victory unraveled in those six seconds. Celebrating their win too soon, the Grady bench drew a two-shot technical foul for leaving the bench, and after Watkins made one of two free throws, the Buccaneers converted both charity tosses to draw within one. After inbounding the ball, the Bucs converted a game-winning lay-up with less than a second — 0.4 seconds — left on the clock.

“I felt pretty good [that] we were going to win the game,” head coach and athletic director Douglas Slade said after the loss. “[It’s] a tough ball game to lose; it just drains you emotionally and physically.”

Both teams and the Allattoona fans were astonished as the last-second shot elevated the home team to second round of the state tournament. Just 5.6 seconds earlier, junior small forward Thomas Cox was sure that his team was going to advance to the second round; still, he would not complain about the outcome of the game.

“[It was a] hard fought game until the end,” Cox said. “It ended on some controversial calls.”

It was a tough game through four regulation quarters and two overtime periods with Grady and Allattoona exchanging the lead throughout the game. At critical points in the game, both teams missed opportunities to win the game.

The Bucs thought they had won the game in regulation on a buzzer-beating three-pointer but the referees disallowed the bucket. Prior to the shot, an official, the same one that later called the pivotal bench technical on Grady, added nearly a full second to the clock.

The Knights had several shots at tie-breaking basket in last 10 seconds of the first overtime, but they could not convert. As leading scorer, junior swingman Greg Sessions, had fouled out earlier in the overtime, the missed shots appeared even more costly as the game headed for a second overtime.

According to Coach Slade, it was the missed opportunities early in the game — not the controversial ending — that caused Grady’s crushing defeat.

“The game came down to missed free throws, opportunity, and players not making their layups,” Slade said. “We shot 27 free throws and only made about 14 of them.”

Slade said that the fans may believe that the game came down to the final seconds of the second overtime, but from a coach’s point-of-view, the players should have stepped up and played better throughout the game. A win over Allatoona would have given the Knights a 20-win season; instead, the team ended the 2010-2011 campaign with a record of 19-11.  With the victory, Allatoona improved to 18-10; a 57-43 second-round loss to Carrollton ended the Bucs season at 18-11.

“We’re disappointed in the way the season ended,” Slade said. “I don’t think we played well; we definitely didn’t coach well.”

While the loss was devastating, Coach Slade said it did taint one of the most successful Knight seasons in recent memory.  According to Slade, observers didn’t even expect Grady to make the state playoffs last year, but the team expected to go to state this year behind the leadership of star senior players such as Desmond Morris and Bernard.

Thirty-two 3A teams qualified for the GHSA state tournament.  Of the four region 5 teams to qualify — Columbia. Woodward Academy, Grady and Washington — only Columbia and Woodward advanced past the first round.  While Woodward was one and done, falling in the second round to Region 8 champ Franklin County 63-55, Columbia, the region 5 champ, has won three state tournament games and will face the region 4 champion, Eagle’s Landing, in the 3A state semifinals this Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Macon.

Although Grady did not make a deep run into the tournament, junior guard Kenneth Cochran was happy to get a taste of the state playoffs in his first year on the team.

“It was really amazing to see the team play an awesome game regardless of the score,” Cochran said. “I was just honored to be able to play with the seniors who are leaving this year.”

The Grady Knights have come a long way in a short time, Coach Slade said. Just a few years ago, Slade merely hoped his team would win a significant number of regular-season games.

Now, however, he says he expects to win a significant number of state tournament games next season.

This story earned a Superior rating in the Sports Game Story category at the Georgia Scholastic Press Association Awards Assembly on April 28, 2011.

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