By Alvin Richardson
For the fourth consecutive season Morgan County’s boys’ basketball team made the state finals, a rare feat in the annals of Georgia high school history but there was no storybook ending for the Bulldogs in this one. The defending Class AAA state champs came up just shy of their third title over that span in a 54-46 loss to Pace Academy’s Knights despite a magnificent effort in a game played at the University of Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum.
This one might well have been an upset for the ages as number one ranked and heavily favored Pace Academy’s back line was enormous. They lined up at 6’10”, 6’10” and 6’7” and were led by McDonald’s All-American Player of the Year Wendell Carter who is headed to Duke next fall.
Never mind the hype – Morgan’s boys were having none of it. The Bulldogs of Coach Jamond Sims clawed and scratched throughout this one with numerous players fighting through bloodied noses, lips and even shots to the groin and never blinked. Jermaine Martin, Damarian Thomas and K.J. Wyatt took turns banging on the big boy and held the great Wendell Carter to 20 hard earned points. Morgan used superior depth and quickness to keep themselves in the game throughout.
Morgan County led 9-7 at the end of a first quarter that saw senior Josiah Mitchell lead the way with four points plus four rebounds along with a team defensive effort that frustrated Carter and his playmates. Both teams warmed up offensively in the second period but the Dogs wouldn’t be rattled. Pace scored 17 points in the second frame but Morgan County stayed right with them. Led by Stevin Green and Tyrin Lawrence who each accounted for five points, Alec Woodard who added four and Yusuf Baig who bagged a three point field goal, Morgan County sent Pace to the locker room on the wrong end of a 26-24 score to let them know the champs weren’t going to easily relinquish their crown.
The third quarter proved to be decisive. Pace outscored Morgan 12-5 to take a five point lead at 36-31. The Bulldog’s defensive effort was effective in the period but their shooters went through a cold spell and the Knights took advantage by going to their big guys down low and building a modest lead. From there Pace kept the pressure on and built their advantage to ten points midway through the final quarter. It looked like Morgan County was doomed but the Bulldogs would not go quietly. Two steals resulted in four points and a free throw cut the lead to four points with four minutes to go but the Knights hit a couple of key three-pointers and put their powerful big men to work in the post with offensive rebounds and putbacks to hold off the Bulldog charge and give them a little breathing room. In the end Morgan was forced to foul and Pace made enough of them to hang on for the win.
Statistically the telling number was at the free throw line. Pace made 15 of 24 tries and Morgan County countered with eight out of 12. From the field Morgan shot 17-51 for 33% and Pace fared a little better making 17 of 45 attempts for 37.8%. Neither team was particularly effective from three-point range as Morgan made four of 20 shots and Pace finished with 5 of 17 shooting from beyond the arc. The Knights out-rebounded the Dogs 38-30 and had 14 big offensive rebounds which several times translated into points.
Alec Woodard led the scoring for Morgan County with 13 points and came up with 5 steals. Tyrin Lawrence finished with 11 points and five rebounds. Stevin Green came off the bench to play a stellar game on both ends of the floor and tallied nine points to go along with three steals and three rebounds. Anthony Cooper led the Bulldog’s in rebounding with six.
Morgan County finished the season with a record of 25-7 and according to early reports were ranked third in the final AJC rankings behind Pace and Westside of Macon.