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S. Thomas Coleman

AAAAA Boys: Warner Robins 45, Stephenson 43

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Warner Robins is officially in the basketball business.

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

Junior forward Stephone Raybone hit both ends of a one-and-one with :06 seconds left in regulation to provide what would be the winning points in a 45-43 win over Stephenson in one Class AAAAA semi final, Saturday afternoon at Fort Valley State University.

Raybone had missed an opportunity to tie the game at 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 :08 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 head 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, Jaguar guard Juwan Henderson hit the front end of his one-and-one on the other end of the floor. When he missed the bonus shot, 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 but wouldn’t fall as the buzzer sounded.

Warner Robins (27-2) fought back from a 33-30 deficit heading into the final period.

“That’s how we’ve been all year,” said head coach Jamaal Garman. “Whenever we’ve faced adversity, we’ve responded, just like we did tonight.”

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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