Just call the Miller Grove Wolverines "Five-Time."
The Wolverines asserted their basketball dynasty on Friday night at the Macon Coliseum, holding off Gainesville in the closing minutes 61-57 for the win. The Wolverines are the first boys basketball team in state history to win five state championships in a row. Westover and Lanier won four in a row, with Lanier's coming from 1925 to 1928.
Gainesville, which lost nine regular season games prior to a 15-game winning streak that advanced them all the way to the state championship game, perhaps ironically saw its Cinderella bid end in a game that met its conclusion less than 30 minutes before midnight, with the Red Elephants (23-10) committing two critical turnovers within the game's final minute.
While Miller Grove's past championships have come with big names such as Tony Parker and Donte Williams, this team clutched the championship without as much star power.
"These guys weren't given a chance, not even by teams in their own region," Miller Grove head coach Sharman White said. "They took that as a chip on their shoulder and played hard all the way through the season."
Despite leading 56-51 with 1:55 to play, Miller Grove's victory wasn't ensured until the final few seconds. Perfect 4-of-4 free-throw shooting from Gainesville's Chase England and Shanquan Cantrell kept the Miller Grove (30-3) lead at two points, 59-57 with 27 seconds to go.
Deshaun Watson came up with a steal on an inbounds pass, and Caleb Hayman drew a foul, setting the Red Elephants up with a chance to tie the game at the free-throw line. Both free throws missed however, and Miller Grove came down with the rebound, moving the ball downcourt to Alterique Gilbert, who easily laid the ball in for the score and 61-57 lead with only a few seconds to play, an advantage that clinched the win.
"You've got to seize the moment in games like this, and our guys did. They understood how important it was how to finish off a good season and turn it into a great season," White said. "They raised the banner high for Miller Grove."
Both teams stayed close to one another throughout the game, with neither team's lead exceeding six points during the final three quarters. Gainesville led 25-19 at halftime and maintained the upper-hand until the closing seconds of the third quarter when a quick 4-0 Miller Grove run moved the Wolverines to a 41-39 lead on a Keith Pinckney lay-up.
From there, both teams found ways to execute offensively, finding ways to make shots, some of them heavily contested in matching one another's effort down the stretch with the championship at stake.
Miller Grove turned up the defensive pressure in the second half. Using full-court defensive at times, the Wolverines forced occasional turnovers but more importantly, took the Red Elephants out of their offensive plan at times. Gainesville was 4-of-14 from three-point range in the first half but was 1-of-5 in the second half.
"They were too comfortable offensively, we had to speed the game up a little bit," White said. "It cost us at times, they scored some buckets. But it was turned into the way we wanted to. We were able to forge ahead and maintain the lead."
Cantrell led Gainesville with 19 points with Luke Moore having 13 and Watson with 12. As for Miller Grove, Gilbert had 19 points with Pinckney having 14 and Earl Bryant having 13.
"They've done things to make up for not having all the superstars and just coming with a balanced attack," White said. "They've been balanced all year long and were able to suck it up and be strong."
The Wolverines started slow, making good on one of their first six shots from the field before a quick 6-0 run capped by a Pinckney lay-up moved Miller Grove to an 8-7 lead with 2:50 left in the quarter. The Wolverines held a 14-11 lead at the end of a quarter.
Gainesville however, got to work offensively, starting on the perimeter.
The Red Elephants started off the second quarter shooting from long distance and reaped the benefits. Each of their first three scores of the second quarter came from behind the three-point arc on a 9-2 run, with three different Red Elephants - Watson, Luke Moore and Shanquan Cantrell draining the long-range shots for a 20-16 lead with 5:19 left before halftime.
Miller Grove found the going tough, managing just one field goal the rest of the half, and Gainesville took advantage. The Red Elephants headed into halftime on a 6-2 run, the exclamation point being a one-handed shot in the paint by Hayman, sending the Red Elephants into the locker room ahead 25-19.