LAWRENCEVILLE — Todd Posey is still fairly new to Jones Middle, but he is aware of its boys basketball history.
Wins were often tough to come by at the Mill Creek cluster school, which is roughly 700 students smaller than fellow feeder school Osborne. Serious playoff runs have been scarce since it opened in 2004.
That wasn’t the case this season, though.
Western Division champion Jones completed an unbeaten season Tuesday night with a 59-56 win over Eastern Division champion Shiloh, claiming the Gwinnett County middle school title for the first time in front of a large crowd at Archer High School. The Hawks finished with a 17-0 record.
“This is huge,” said Posey, his voice soft and strained from an evening of coaching. “This is my fifth year at Jones, and quite honestly, Jones has struggled a little bit in basketball. So just to see the excitement of the kids and the fans, it’s great. It’s been awhile since Jones has done well.”
Jones trailed in the championship game early in the first quarter, but held the lead from there. Shiloh (13-4) made a serious charge with 42 second-half points and had its chances to win in a frantic final minute.
But Jones hung on, sending its fans into a frenzy.
“It meant a lot because Jones has never had an undefeated season yet and it’s the first time getting the championship, so it means a lot to us,” said Trajen Greco, one of four eighth-graders who played on the Hawks’ 2018-19 team as seventh-graders.
That team didn’t fare well, but this one made up for it.
“We did not make the playoffs last year,” said Posey, also Jones’ teacher of the year in 2017-18. “So that was huge that we’ve been able to work this hard to get there.”
Greco led the Hawks with 23 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and three assists, and he was backed up well by Josh Anglin and John McIntyre, who joined him as seventh-graders on Jones’ roster last season. Anglin had 17 points, 10 rebounds and four steals, and McIntyre had 13 points, six rebounds and three steals.
The fourth seventh-grader on last season’s roster, Marco Diaz, also played heavy minutes off the bench. Diaz and Daniel Song stepped up when Javias Robinson got into foul trouble.
“It was a battle,” Posey said. “Composure was big. I had some guys come off the bench that don’t normally play as much and they played really good defense, Daniel and Marco.”
Jones controlled most of the first two quarters by forcing 15 Shiloh turnovers, building a 26-14 lead at halftime. The Generals made it close on a couple of occasions in the third quarter, the last at the 2-minute mark on a 3-pointer by Wizdom Holmes (12 points) to get within 33-30. Jones answered with six straight points, the first two on baskets by Anglin, and closed the quarter with a 41-33 lead — thanks in large part to a charge drawn by Anglin in the waning seconds.
Shiloh made eight 3-pointers in the second half, but never made it a one-possession game until a furious final minute led by Michael Matthews, who had a game-high 25 points. Matthews scored eight points in the final minute, including two 3-pointers that nearly brought his team back.
The first with 32 seconds left closed the gap to 56-53. McIntyre followed by making two free throws with 26 seconds left for a five-point lead, but the breathing room was short-lived when Matthews buried another 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to get within 58-56.
Jones’ struggles at the free-throw line fueled Shiloh’s hopes — the Hawks made just 7 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter.
After two missed Jones free throws with 14 seconds left, Shiloh got to the line but missed the first shot. The second was an intentional miss that went to Jones because of a lane violation, but the Hawks promptly turned it over.
That gave Shiloh a good look at another 3-pointer, but it was off the mark and Greco was fouled with 3.9 seconds left. He made 1 of 2 for a 59-56 lead, and a halfcourt heave from Matthews was off the mark.
“This group, they just play so hard,” Posey said. “They feed off of each other. We could have totally lost it, but we kept our composure.”