SAVANNAH -- If Johnson played a 3-2 zone, Washington County head coach Carlos Hope wasnt aware of it.
Hope said he had not seen the Atomsmashers in such a defensive alignment on any of the film he had seen or scouting reports he had gone over. But thats what the Golden Hawks saw in the final half-minute Thursday, and it proved to be their undoing.
The defending GHSA Class AAA state champions got a pair of free throws by Adrian Bonds with 27 seconds to play and then held on to defeat Washington County 52-51 to advance to the Class AAA Final Four.
The Golden Hawks led 26-21 at the half only to see the Atomsmashers rally to tie it at 36 going into the final quarter.
But A.J. Gray hit a 3-pointer for Washington County to start the fourth quarter, and the Golden Hawks maintained the lead and were up by four when Gray dropped in a pair of free throws to make it 49-45 with 1:50 to play. Bonds, who had a game high 28 points including four 3-pointers from well behind the arc, ignited a 5-0 run when he got a reverse dunk cutting under the basket.
Antwan Maxwell then added a pair of foul shots, and Dushard Morris made 1-of-2 before Kendall Phillips made a dazzling spin move down the middle of the lane for a basket that put the Golden Hawks back in front, 51-50, with 38 seconds left.
Eleven seconds later Morris fouled Bonds, and he calmly made his two free throws to set up the frantic closing seconds.
Johnson head coach Udaff Gordon put his team in the zone, and it completely befuddled the Golden Hawks, who were anticipating facing the Smashers man-to-man.
They switched to the zone, and we never got set, Hope said. We were going to go isolation with Gray. We attacked, but then we had to pass out. We didnt get the shot we wanted.
TiQuan Lewis, the Hawks 6-foot-5 sophomore center, had to take an outside shot, and it wasnt close as the buzzer sounded.
If we had played man, (Gray) would have taken off on a drive, and we would have wound up fouling him, Gordon said. My thinking was to keep them in front of us and make them take a long shot. We didnt want to foul because they werent missing at the foul line.
I had my long kid (6-8 Antwan Maxwell) on the point, so anything they took was going to be contested, Gordon said. When that clock hits 10 seconds, it seems to go faster. A lot of things went wrong for them on that sequence.
Bonds was the difference between the two teams. He is Johnsons leading scorer at 16 points per game, and with at least four college coaches at the packed gym, he put on a dazzling display as did Gray, the Hawks junior guard.
The Johnson senior had 10 points in the first quarter, was scoreless in the second and had 11 in the third before closing with seven in the final eight minutes.
We had a tough time staying in front of him, Hope said. He hit one from the time line. I dont know what we could have done. I felt we did all we could do to win. One or two possessions did not make a difference in the game.
We were just a bounce away from winning this game. This game should have been in Macon. The state championship game wont be any better.