SNELLVILLE — One Region 6-AAAAAAA boys basketball team came up with perhaps its best effort of the season to end its opponent’s long winning streak, while another had its long winning streak snapped when it couldn’t quite finish as well as it had the night before during Saturday’s semifinals of the 2019 Deep South Classic at Brookwood.
Mill Creek was the former, which rode a strong all-around effort led by Jack Kostel’s game-high 28 points to move into the championship game with an 81-74 win over Johns Creek, and ending the Gladiators’ eight-game winning streak.
Collins Hill was the latter 6-AAAAAA team, and the Eagles fell victim to the first-half shooting of Michael Zanoni, who posted 19 of his game-high 30 points in the first half, to overcome a huge effort from Jabiri Smith and lead Providence Day of Charlotte, N.C., to a 79-73 win.
Smith finished with 26 points and seven rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Chargers (7-6) from moving into the championship game to take on Mill Creek on Monday at 7:30 p.m. and handing the Eagles (11-4) their first loss in 10 games.
The Hawks (6-9) earned their way into the game by leading nearly wire-to-wire, only trailing briefly in the first quarter.
“For the first time in several games, we played a complete game,” Mill Creek coach David Allen said. “We went against a (Johns Creek team) that has us size-wise. (But) we played hard. We did the little things we needed to (Saturday) that we haven’t been doing. For the most part, we protected the ball and we made good decisions.
“We knew we had to play in transition. If we’d played a lot of half court, we were going to be in a lot of trouble.”
The Hawks, who have nobody standing taller than 6-foot-4, used its speed in transition to go around the taller Gladiators (10-4) most of the night, with Kostel leading the way.
And when Johns Creek did try to make a run by cutting as much as a 10-point deficit down, different Mill Creek players stepped forward to answer.
After the Gladiators came as close as five points, Kostel knocked down a 3-pointer with 5:10 remaining to give the Hawks a little breathing room at 69-61.
Then after Johns Creek cut another 10-point deficit down to 76-72 after a pair of Josh Davis free throw with 46.1 seconds left, Mill Creek held the line defensive and put the game away by connecting on 5 of 6 free throw attempts in the final 36.9 seconds.
Zion Wimby joined Kostel in double figures with 15 points, while Alex Garrison and Justin Birch also contributed 10 points apiece to help the Hawks get their slot in the title game opposite Providence Day.
That’s because unlike Friday’s opening round win over South Carolina power T.L. Hanna, Collins Hill couldn’t find enough production down the stretch to close out Saturday’s game.
After fighting to a 21-21 deadlock after one quarter, the Eagles were able to build a 41-36 lead by halftime behind 10 combined points from Jabiri Smith and Vino Glover, and then extended the lead to as much as 48-39 following Smith’s 3-pointer with 6:04 left in the third quarter.
But even with the lead at 52-45 following a three-point play guy Donovan Morris with 3:31 left in the quarter, the Chargers lived up to their name.
Collins Hill defended better against Zanoni, who had burned them for 19 first-half points, including five 3-pointers, but Providence Day began to find other sources of offense.
Davis Fagan and John Morris Byrne combined for 17 of the Chargers’ 20 points in the third quarter, including Fagan’s stickback with 12 seconds left in the quarter to cut Collins Hill’s lead to just 60-56 heading into the fourth quarter.
And with the Eagles still leading 68-64 after Morris’ tip-in of his own miss with 4:40 left, Providence Day began to find open shots more easy to come by.
Zanoni capped a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer, his only basket behind the arc in the second half, to vault the Chargers into their first lead since late in the first quarter at 71-68 with 1:51 remaining.
Jabiri Smith answered with a 3-pointer of his own, and then answered Byrne’s layup with a pull-up jumper to leave the game tied at 73 with 1:01 left.
But a pair of turnovers on ensuing possessions proved costly for the Eagles, and Providence Day capitalized with a Zanoni jumper with 34 seconds left to take the lead for good, and Byrne and Zanoni each hit a pair of free throws in the final 21.8 seconds to put the game away.
While the late miscues definitely hurt, Collins Hill coach Joe Dix said that earlier missed opportunities, including several missed layups in the first half, played just as big a role in breaking the Eagles’ 10-game winning streak, and sending them into Monday’s 4:30 p.m. third-place game against Johns Creek.
“People don’t realize the layups we missed in the first quarter were as important as the (turnovers) at the end of the game,” Dix said. “We had some early opportunities to put some distance between us (and Providence Day), and we didn’t do it. When you don’t do things the right way against this team, you’re going to get beat.
“It’s a tough loss, but the kids played hard and competed. We’re definitely headed in the right direction. I hope we learn something from this.”
Besides Smith’s contributions, the Eagles also got a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds from Morris, plus 13 points from Jabre Mills and 10 points from Glover.
Fagan bolstered Zanoni’s big night for Providence Day with 20 points, while Byrne chipped in for the Chargers with 15 big points off the bench.