COLUMBUS — Size isn’t always everything in high school basketball, but it certainly mattered for Greater Atlanta Christian’s boys in their Class AA state semifinal game against Laney.
The twin towers of Isaiah Wilkins and Justin Lewis dominated in the lane and on the glass, and the Spartans played solid defense and hit enough free throws to keep the Wildcats at arm’s length for a 66-58 win Saturday at the Frank G. Lumpkin Center.
The 6-foot-7 Wilkins finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, six blocked shots and three steals, while the 6-6 Lewis added 17 points, 13 boards and five blocks as the defending state champions kept its season-long unbeaten streak going.
More importantly, it earned the Spartans (31-0) the right to play Calhoun for their third title in the last four years next Friday at the Macon Centreplex.
“We just felt like (Laney) was going to have a tough time guarding those two guys down in the post,” GAC coach Eddie Martin said. “And they were respecting our (perimeter) shooters and getting out on them, which opened up the lane a little more.
“I think both those guys played extremely well. Defensively, we got after them. That’s a good team. It’s not like we beat a fluke team out there. That’s a good team.”
After being pushed to the limit by Laney (26-5) in last year’s semifinals, the Spartans were determined to push back this year.
And the Spartans’ bigs started that push from the opening tip, with Wilkins and Lewis not only combining for 26 points and seven blocked shots in the first half, but also doing much of the heavy lifting in helping GAC command a 24-9 advantage on the boards in the opening 16 minutes.
With the Wildcats paying a lot of attention to Wilkins, Lewis did much of the damage early, scoring eight points and pulling down four rebounds in the first 4:10 of the first quarter as the Spartans built a 12-5 lead.
“All season, teams try to double down on Isaiah,” said Lewis, who had a similar performance in Thursday’s quarterfinal win at Jefferson by scoring 12 of his game-high 22 points in the first quarter. “And Isaiah’s one of the best passers in the state. He knows what passes to make, and all I’ve got to do is finish.”
Laney fought back in the latter half of the opening frame by increasing its defensive pressure on the perimeter to force turnovers and get its transition game going.
Tommy Smith had bookend three-point plays to key a 10-4 run over the final 2:26 of the first quarter that briefly gave the Wildcats a lead, and had them trailing just 18-17 by the end of the period.
But in the second quarter, Wilkins began to take over.
The Virginia-bound senior slammed down an alley-oop pass from Cam Boyd to started the second quarter, and added a run of eight straight points during a 15-0 run late in the half that helped the Spartans take a 38-24 lead into intermission.
GAC was never really able to deliver a decisive knockout blow as Laney kept hanging around on the strength of strong 3-point shooting from Jashawn Brooks, who scored eight of his 11 points in the third quarter, and the hustle of Tommy Smith.
Twice, the Wildcats pulled as close as five points, the second time after Smith followed his own missed free throw with a rebound and layup that cut the GAC lead to 47-42 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter.
But Lewis answered with a drive down the lane with 16 seconds left to send the Spartans into the fourth quarter with a more comfortable 49-42 lead
From there, GAC still had a hard time putting the game away by missing 15 of 28 free-throw attempts in the final frame.
But with Laney piling up fouls — three players fouled out, including Brooks, while three others accumulated four fouls — the Spartans were able to connect just enough from the charity stripe to keep the game from getting too close.
Cam Boyd connected on 5 of 6 from the line in the final 1:49, and Wilkins added two more, while Troy Morrison closed out a big night with a layup, and the Spartans were finally able to celebrate.
Morrison finished the night with 12 points and three assist, while Boyd’s clutch free throws helped give him eight points on the night.
Christian Keeling came off the bench to match Brooks for Laney’s team-high scoring honors with 11 points, while Zephaniah Jasper chipped in 10 points and four assists.