SNELLVILLE — For a half, Round 3 of No. 1 state-ranked Grayson vs. No. 2 Shiloh was living up to its billing during the boys championship game of the Region 8-AAAAAAA tournament.
But the visiting Rams showed plenty of talent and poise in the second half, keyed by a big final 16 minutes form Caleb Murphy, to pull away for a 75-64 win Monday night at Shiloh.
Murphy scored eight of his game-high 24 points during a 19-9 third quarter that proved to be the difference, and then added 10 more in the fourth to help Grayson (26-1) secure the region title for the second straight season and earn a first-round home game against Discovery in the state tournament.
But he was hardly alone, as the Rams came out with aggression and composure out of the halftime intermission during a physical third quarter.
“It was loud in here, so you’re kind of limited as a coach trying to micromanage the game,” Grayson coach Geoffrey Pierce said. “So (the players) did a good job of adjusting. I’’m proud of them.”
There was need for a few adjustments for the Rams, as Shiloh (23-3) double-teamed four-star point guard Deivon Smith through the half, and got plenty of offense from Caleb Golden, who scored nine of his 11 points in the opening 16 minutes, and James Little added seven of his 10 points on the night, including a driving layup off a feed form Anthony Canada to give the Generals a 34-33 lead with 19 seconds left in the half.
But Deivon Smith scored on an offensive rebound and stickback to beat the buzzer to send Grayson into halftime on top at 35-34.
More importantly, it gave a chance for Pierce and the Rams to make their adjustments after relying primarily on hot-shooting from the perimeter from the other Smith in the starting lineup — Josh, who hit three of his four 3-pointers on the night in the first half — to be able to stay ahead.
After halftime, Grayson responded to Shiloh’s double-teaming of Deivon Smith by quickly moving the ball around, and it usually wound up in the hands of Murphy who scored all six points during a quick 6-2 run in the first 3:07 of the third quarter that gave the Rams a little breathing room at 41-36.
“Deivon got a lot of hockey assists,” Pierce said. “We told (the team) at halftime, the pass Deivon makes will lead to assists on the next pass. That’s how we were able to get layups or uncontested shots in the third quarter.
“We want (Murphy) to stay aggressive. We asked him to stop calling for ball screens, and he did it. I’ll take my chances with him on an island any day.”
And if Murphy wasn’t scoring, other Grayson players were.
After Little briefly pulled Shiloh back to within a point at 41-39 with. 3-pointer with 4:31 left in the third quarter, Josh Smith hit the last of his 3-pointers on the night with an open shot from the left wing off a feed from Deivon Smith at the 4:14 mark.
Meanwhile, Deivon Smith and Toneari Lane combined for eight more points as the Rams finished the period on a 13-4 run to balloon their lead to 54-43, and Shiloh was never able to recover.
The Generals never pulled to within single digits again, and received injury added to insult when Golden left the game with a bloody nose after going face first into the padding behind the basket while trying to make a play defensively in transition.
And while that effort was good, Shiloh coach Kim Rivers lamented the overall effort of his defense throughout the evening.
“We didn’t play a good job of playing defense at all,” Rivers said. “We played like we were intimidated in the second half. (Grayson) was just the better team (Monday) night.
“Between us not stopping the ball and letting them get to the paint every time in the second half, … we didn’t play with our hearts. In championship games, you’ve got to play defense, bottom line. That was probably one of our poorest efforts defensively all season.”
In addition to Murphy’s scoring, Josh Smith also reached double figures with 14 points, primarily on the strength of his four 3-pointers, and pulled down seven rebounds, while Lane finished with 13 points and three steals and Deivon Smith contributed 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Canada matched Golden for high-point honors for Shiloh with 11 points, while Jordan Mitchell added 10 points and Ezra Ausar chipped in eight points and seven boards off the bench for the Generals, who will host Peachtree Ridge in the first round of the playoffs, likely on Saturday.
Newton 61, Archer 56
Brent Smith scored 13 points, but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers (18-10) fell to Newton in the third-place game.
Areyon Johnson also reached double figures with 12 points for Archer, which will travel to North Gwinnett in the first round of state.
Caleb Byrd scored a game-high 25 points to pace Newton, which will travel to Collins Hill for its first-round game this weekend.