It was a basketball season landscaped by brand new classifications, rekindled rivalries, first-time meetings, and the expected parity that comes with an ultra-talented and highly-competitive basketball state. For four-months, buzzer-beaters, heartbreaking losses and surprising finishes packed the ebbs and flow into 2016-17 season. The Upson-Lee boys, however, were on a journey of their own. After suffering a first-round loss to end the 2015-16 season, the Knights were dialed in to make sure there would be no regrets when the 2016-17 was said and done. The result is what will remain one of the most memorable storylines of the 2016-17 season in any of the classifications, as Upson-Lee brought home program’s first state title in style by clinching a perfect 32-0 season.
“That was motivation going into this year,” said Upson-Lee junior Tavias Fagan regarding last year’s first-round loss. “They [The coaches] reminded us constantly of the first round. We took it as motivation, got better each day, and our dream came true of winning our first state title.”
Fagan led Upson-Lee with a team-high 20 points in Friday’s 53-48 championship victory over St. Pius. Upson-Lee was able to get off to to a strong start, making 11-of-23 first half field goal attempts, while holding St. Pius to 4-of-22. The shooting disparity led to a 27-14 Upson-Lee lead at the half and plenty of “U… L” chants that have echoed the Knights’ season-long championship effort
Everett Lane netted seven 3-pointers and led St. Pius with a game-high 29 points, 23 of which came in the second half, to make it interesting. However, Upson-Lee used clutch foul shooting and 5-of-8 shooting in the final frame to close out the Golden Lions. Upson-Lee sophomore Travon Walker was a beast on the boards, hauling in 16 of the Knights’ 37 rebounds. He finished with nine points, but an early third foul to start the second half put him on the bench and St. Pius used that window to get back into the game.
“We had to take the big guy [Walker] out because of foul trouble,” Upson-Lee head coach Darrell Lockhart explained to the Macon Telegraph following the game. “They [St. Pius] were smart, and they took advantage of it. They hit some shots, and they had it going. We were able to slow them down enough so we wouldn’t run out of gas, get our big guy back in and get some stops and hit free throws.”
On the girls’ side, Columbus established a 33-21 halftime lead and took a 43-30 lead into the final quarter before surviving a 69-67 overtime thriller to take home the state crown. Carver-Columbus netted a game-winning 3-pointer when the teams faced in last month’s region championship, but this time it was the Blue Devils’ Tatyana Wyatt returning the favor with a game-winning corner 3-pointer with nine seconds left. The Kentucky-commit finished with a game-high 27 points and perfect 10-of-10 shooting from the foul line. Carver-Columbus did not lead a single time in regulation but took a 60-58 lead with 3:23 left in overtime and after five lead changes held a 67-66 lead before Wyatt’s game-winner.
“We were either going to win it with the ball in my hands, or lose it with the ball in my hands,” Wyatt explained after the game. “We just ran a play, I didn’t get the ball in the post (as planned), so I decided to pop out. I know I can shoot the 3-ball so they gave me the ball and (the defense) was playing me a little off. I took a shot — I knew it was going in because it came out right — and I was just so excited when the ball went in.”