LILBURN — Late in the second quarter, visiting West Forsyth had runners moving inside the arc and were passing it outside, but for more than a minute the Wolverines couldn’t find an open outside shot or penetrate for a closer look.
That was basically how the night went for West Forsyth.
The Patriots, fresh off a Region 7-AAAAAAA tournament championship, made the Wolverines earn almost every point and emerged victorious 62-29 on Thursday in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA boys basketball tournament.
“Our scout team did a wonderful job this week of getting us ready for (West Forsyth’s Broc Bidwell) and (Jack Bock),” Berkmar coach Greg Phillips said. “The guys did a tremendous job. … Defensively, holding that team to 29 points is pretty good.”
Another big storyline for Berkmar (17-9) was the inside play of big men Jalen DeLoach and Malique Ewin. Their size and quickness kept West Forsyth (18-11) from finding many open shots.
When they weren’t playing outstanding defense, they were causing trouble rebounding and, especially DeLoach, making good passes to find open teammates. Fans and teammates also weren’t disappointed with the four dunks the big guys threw down.
“(Inside) is where we really needed to take advantage,” Phillips said. “I don’t think we did a good job — I didn’t do a good job of getting us the ball inside in the first half. But the second half, we did a good job of getting stops and then transitioning. With bigs that run, that’s tough to stop.”
Ewin (11 points) got Berkmar started on offense with a free throw early, and DeLoach (12 points) got his only bucket of the first half a couple of minutes later. Tyler Lane hit a 3-pointer for West Forsyth to tie the game at the 4:20 mark in the first quarter, and the teams each scored another basket over the next minute and a half for a 5-5 tie.
Berkmar took the lead for good when Dara Olonade caught a great pass underneath from DeLoach and put it in. Jermahri Hill added two late free throws to put Berkmar up 9-5 after the first period.
Points were still at a premium for both teams in the second quarter. DeLoach found Ewin twice on passes from the high post to low post in the quarter for two of only three Patriot field goals in the period. Julius Reynolds scored the other after awing the crowd with dribble skills on a break against a Wolverine defender with 4:20 remaining in the half, at which point Berkmar led 16-11.
West Forsyth managed to hang in the game despite just two field goals in the period, one an off-balance 3-pointer from Bidwell (seven points) with 6:39 to go in the frame. The other came on a good drive by Nick Zabetakis (seven points) with 0:03 to go before the buzzer, which put the Wolverines’ down 20-14 at the break.
In the second half, Berkmar found its rhythm. A basket by Elijah Wood and a pair by DeLoach in the first two minutes of the third quarter started to stretch the lead. Bidwell helped keep West Forsyth in it with two buckets, one of which was on a good move underneath in heavy defense, and Berkmar had a 26-18 advantage at the 4:58 mark.
The teams traded points for the next few minutes, including the Wolverines’ Sterling Johnson hitting a 3-pointer to bring his team back to within single digits at 32-23 with 2:46 remaining in the quarter. But at the 2:00 mark, Berkmar started to completely pull away. A strip on the defensive end led to Ewin getting an easy layup in a 5-on-4 situation on the offensive end, and the Patriots ended the quarter outscoring the Wolverines 8-2 in the final two minutes for a 40-25 lead going into the final eight minutes of the game.
West Forsyth struggled mightily in the fourth quarter. Berkmar had scored the final two points of the third quarter and then rattled off six straight baskets in the first 3:22 of the final period, stretching together a 14-0 run that turned the Patriots’ 38-25 lead into a 52-25 lead. Zabetakis ended the scoring drought for the Wolverines at the 4:05 mark, but by then it was too late to keep them from bowing out of the tournament in the first round.
Both teams emptied their benches in the final couple of minutes. Kendall Braxton, Ahmed Soumahoro and Tyriq Giddens got their names in the scoring book for Berkmar, and West Forsyth’s Grant Moore put in a shot late for his team.
Berkmar will face the winner of Friday’s game between Colquitt County and Kennesaw Mountain in the second round of the state tournament.