Upson-Lee made its first championship a memorable one.
The No. 1-ranked Knights not only outlasted No. 7 St. Pius at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, they finished the season as the only unbeaten team in Georgia. Upson-Lee capped a record 32-0 season by beating St. Pius 53-48 on Friday before a capacity crowd to win the Class AAAA boys championship.
“Right now I’m just numb,” said Upson-Lee coach Darrell Lockhart. “I’m happy. I’m numb, waiting for that feeling to hit me.”
St. Pius didn’t make it easy on the favored Knights. The Golden Lions trimmed the lead to 48-45 when Everett Lane made a 3-pointer with 23.4 seconds left. But Upson-Lee refused to miss any free throws and open the door for the Golden Lions; the Knights were 5-for-6 in the final 20 seconds to seal the victory.
“They hit some shots. They had it going,” Lockhart said. “But we were able to slow them down enough so that we wouldn’t run out of gas and get our big guy back in and get some shots and hit free throws.”
Lane kept St. Pius (24-8) in the game with his perimeter prowess. The junior scored 29 points and was 7-for-15 on 3-pointers. The rest of the Golden Lions were 1-for-8 from beyond the arc.
St. Pius couldn’t contain Upson-Lee captain Tavias Fagan. The junior scored 20 points and had five rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal.
“I had to get on him a little bit because he wanted to pass everything,” Lockhart said. “He has the ability to do the things he’s been doing all year long. There’s no sense in trying to pass the ball when you can do stuff like that late in the ball game. He made free throws and he hit some incredible shots.”
Upson-Lee center Travon Walker had nine points, including two clutch free throws with 13 seconds left, and a game-high 16 rebounds.
“I’m so happy for my players,” Lockhart said. “Not only am I happy for them, but they’ll be back next year.” Upson-Lee will lose only two senior contributors.
Upson-Lee seemed to take control of the game in the second quarter. The Knights use an 8-2 run and took a 27-14 lead into the second half.
St. Pius got good ball movement and patiently looked for the open shot, but the Lions just couldn’t knock them down. They were 4-for-22 from the field and 2-for-10 on 3-pointers, while Upson-Lee made 11 of 24 and shot 3-for-9 on 3-pointers.
The shots began to fall for the Golden Lions in the third quarter. Lane made three 3-pointers during an 11-3 stretch that drew St. Pius to within four points. From that point was a battle of attrition that Upson-Lee eventually won.
Upson-Lee (53): Zyrice Scott 8,Michael Smith 8, Jacorey Smith 4, Travon Walker 9, Tavias Fagan 20, Cameron Taylor 3, Willie Daniel 1.
St. Pius (48): Matthew Gonzalo 4, Brian Gonzalo 4, Everett Lane 29, Carson Seramur 7, Nico Broadway 2, Kennedy Willis 2,