ATHENS – Pace Academy senior Wendell Carter II got a call from his future college coach last week and given one simple instruction: Get yourself another championship ring.
Carter, who has signed with Duke, followed the directive from Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski and Thursday afternoon helped Pace Academy claim its second straight state championship with a 54-46 win over Morgan County in the Class AAA title game at Stegeman Coliseum.
The 6-foot-10 senior worked hard for his second ring; he helped Pace win the Class AA title last year in Macon. Bullied and pushed around for most of the game by the aggressive Morgan County defenders, he finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds.
“It’s been a goal and I’m getting a little emotional,” Carter said. “It’s my last high school game and went out with a bang. I’m happy.”
Pace Academy trailed by two points at the half, but took over midway in the third quarter. The Knights used a 9-0 run, which included a tip-in bucket by Carter that gave them a 31-30 lead with 1:30 left in the period. Pace never trailed again.
“We took the lead with defense,” Pace Academy coach Demetrius Smith said. “Defense is our motto.”
Pace Academy (26-8) got inside help from Isaiah Kelly (six points, seven rebounds, five assists) and Jonathon Rushton (six points, two rebounds, two blocks), but benefited from the performance of the little guys, too. Myles Todd and Mark Sommerville each scored seven and Barrett Baker scored six on a pair of 3-pointers.
“Wendell and Isaiah are two great players. They’ve been willing us all year,” Smith said. “Our little guys stepped up and made plays. It was a just great team win.”
Carter said, “I relied on my teammates. I can’t do everything on the court. I look for my teammates to fill in the spots and I just do the dirty work. They can’t take that away from me. As long as I run the floor, get rebounds, everything else will come.”
Morgan County (25-6) fell short in defending its Class AAA championship. The Bulldogs were led by Alex Woodward with 13 points and Tyrin Lawrence with 11 points.
Morgan County led 26-24 at halftime. There were six lead changes and four ties in the physical first half. The Bulldogs tried to deny the ball to Carter, but he still had nine points and seven rebounds in the first two quarters.
“The game plan is, if the pack it in, we shoot them out of it,” Smith said. “And Wendell closes it out. Eventually they have to come out of the paint. They can’t stand in there when we’re making shots.”
Pace Academy (54): Myles Todd 7, Barrett Baker 6, Mark Sommerville 7, Wendell Carter II 20, Isaiah Kelly 6, Zach Leven 2, Jonathon Rushton 6.
Morgan County (46): Tyrin Lawrence 11, Josiah Mitchell 4, Alex Woodward 13, Yusuf Baig 3, Stevin Green 9, Anthony Cooper 6.