Posted: 10:52 pm Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Class AAAAAA boys final: Tift County 63, Wheeler 49 

By David Purdum

high school basketball

Tift County players celebrate their Class AAAAAA championship win over Wheeler Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Macon. (Kent D. Johnson / AJC)

For the first time since 1998, the state basketball championship in the highest classification is headed to South Georgia.

DJ Bryant scored 21 points, and Tift County used a stellar defensive performance to beat top-ranked Wheeler, 63-49, in a AAAAAA state championship slugfest Saturday in Macon.

It’s the first state title for the Blue Devils since 1994 and the first for a South Georgia team in the highest classification since Savannah won it all 16 years ago. It was intense and all about defense.

Photos: Georgia high school basketball state championships

Tift County took a 5-3 lead early in the first quarter and didn’t trail again. The Blue Devils answered every Wheeler challenge, and when PJ Horne threw down an alley-oop dunk off an inbounds play, Tift led 47-37 with three minutes to play, and the crowd could feel it.

Tadric Jackson added 15 points and three steals for the Blue Devils, who forced 23 Wheeler turnovers.

Wheeler star Jaylen Brown scored 17 points to lead the Wildcats before fouling out with three minutes left. Elijah Staley had 16 points, and Avery Patterson added nine.

Playing in front of a loud, pro-Blue Devils crowd at the Macon Centreplex, Tift County warmed up in t-shirts with “No Buckets” printed on the back. The Blue Devils weren’t kidding. They held Wheeler, a team averaging close to 70 points, to just 28 points through three quarters and became only the second instate team to defeat the Wildcats this season.

Tift County coach Eric Holland was animated and in and out of his grey sport coat throughout the game. At one point, he threw it up into the air and onto the scorer’s table in disgust. Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb, who was looking for his sixth state title, kept his jacket on but coached most of the second half with a black towel draped around his neck.

“This is not only about Tift County basketball, but all of South Georgia,” said Holland.  “I knew coming in here we were going to win. I’ve never seen our kids that focused.”

With next-level athletes all over the court, both teams pressured each other with hard-nosed man-to-man defense. Open shots were hard to come by. Wheeler made only one of its first seven shots and committed 13 turnovers in the first half. Tift County’s offense also struggled and shot just 26.9 percent from the floor in the first half.

“We had way too many turnovers and did hit shots,” said Lipscomb. “But first and foremost, I want to say how proud  I am of the season this kids had.”

Wheeler was called for 29 fouls; Tift County 17.

6 comments
Sportsnutx2
Sportsnutx2

@Blue Devil == Congratulations to Tift on their big win. I was pulling for them because they eliminated us (Lovejoy) in the Sweet 16.  There are not many posters here when it comes to basketball. Mostly everyone is a football junkie when it comes to posting. With that said, I think Tift is very talented and will be competitive for years to come. I would also like to note that it was great to see both Tift and Turner Co. representing the same year. Lot's of talent in that area. I think Lovejoy played you guy's better than anyone in the tournament this year. A 3 pt. loss to the eventual state champion will give our returning kids confidence in the year to come.


Again I say, Congratulations and well done.

Ddragon
Ddragon

Congrats to all the champions, it's a great achievement to win a state title.

Not to take anything away from those who won, but just an observation.

Basketball in the state is the weakest it has been in a long time. The 6A title game was a poorly  played

game , sloppy play- turnovers, poor shooting, poor coaching etc.

The fact that Warner Robbins make it to the 5A title game speaks for itself. This Miller Groove team would lose to the team of just 2

years ago by 25points.  4A game both Jonesboro and Columbia teams much weaker than the year before. The whole class down.

There were some good players in GA this year but on the whole the number of D 1 player are well down in the state.

Blue Devil
Blue Devil

First I want to say Congrats to Tift county blue devils on an excellent season culminating with the ultimate goal, a state championship. I was waiting to see if any ATL teams would get on the blog to give us some credit or something, but nothing I see, that's ok it's tough giving up the title of the states best to a south Georgia team, but get use to it there is a whole lot of talent in south Georgia and Tift county will be good for years to come.

ToeMeetsLeather
ToeMeetsLeather

Congrats Tift.

Next step for Tadric, report to GaTech in a few weeks and get ready to take over that SG spot for next fall.

58Supersports
58Supersports

Congrats to Coach Eric Holland  and his great team, They made all of 1AAAAAA very happy. Loved it!!!!!!!!!!

Blue Devil
Blue Devil

@Ddragon  

I disagree Ddragon, the 6A champ game alone had eight D-1 players on the floor and I know that for a fact. I watched all the champ games and every team had at least 2 D-1 players as the announcers professed during the games. The private schools like Whitfield academy and St. Francis was loaded with D-1 prospects. Tift went through five tough teams to win the state champ and all were ranked in the states top 10 with D-1 talent on each team. Morgan county in 3A have an excellent point guard in Tookie Brown who will be a definite D-1 player. In response to sloppy play and poor shooting, question - you don't think defense had anything to do with that? you got two power house teams who are not going to let you run your sets and have well scouted and prepared for you so in that instance the team that plays the better defense and controls their turnovers and wins the free throw shooting contest is usually going to prevail the victor, as Tift county won those categories.