With four players that transferred into the program this year, the Jenkins basketball team has been searching for chemistry and a championship dynamic all season long.
On Saturday night, the Warriors had their ups and downs against a tough Westside squad, but they came together like a true team down the stretch to knock off the Seminoles 52-49 in a Class 3A semifinal at the Georgia Southern Armstrong Campus.
Jenkins improved to 25-5 on the year and will face Greater Atlanta Christian in the state title game Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Macon Centreplex.
Midway through the fourth quarter, when Westside rallied to take a lead, there was some bickering on the court between the Warrior players. But when the game was on the line, they were able to deliver.
“This may be the most dysfunctional state finalist team I have ever coached,” said Jenkins coach Bakari Bryant, who has led the Warriors to three title games in six years, winning the state crown in 2015. “The guys kept their heads and they showed perseverance. Now we have one more game left.”
The Warriors have been having their troubles in the first half in recent games, but they came out hot early behind the outside shooting of Tre’ Mays and a few drives to the basket by Tyrone Scott. Jenkins led 18-12 after the first quarter and 26-22 at intermission.
Westside led 42-38 after a putback by Gregory Holloway with 2:54 left. But Jenkins came right back when Lamont Sams Jr. took a pass from Scott and drove from the top of the key inside to finish with a finer roll.
After Desmon Foster’s running banker put Westside up 44-40, Matthew Sams of Jenkins threw up an air ball from beyond the arc, but his cousin Lamont Sams was their to grab it like a pass before slamming it home.
On Jenkins’ next possession, Mays connected on a trey that bounced off the front rim, hit the backboard and went it to tie it at 45 with 1:25 left.
After a timeout, Westside was called for a technical foul for having six players on the court. Mays swished both free throws, and on the ensuing possession Sai Fisher made one of two from the line as Jenkins went up 48-45.
Fisher made another key shot, converting a field goal from the free throw line with 42 seconds left to put the Warriors up 50-48.
Westside closed the gap to 50-49, and Scott missed the front end of a one and one to give the Seminoles life with 23 seconds left.
Omar Jones got the ball for Westside and was camped out about 7 feet from the basket on the right side of the key. Mays was guarding him straight up and made a big play, as Mye’on Williams came from the back side to snatch the ball away. He got the ball quickly to Mays, who was fouled and converted both for the final points of the game.
“I’m feeling a lot of joy right now,” said Mays, who scored a team-high 15 points. “This is going to be the first state title game that I’ll get to play in. I’ve been playing basketball since I was five, and I always dreamed of coming up with a clutch moment like this on the big stage. I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life.”
Halloway led Westside with 23 points, while Omar Jones and Javian Mosley added nine points each. The Seminoles made just 8 of 17 free throws
“We had our chances tonight,” Westside coach Josh Grube said . “But we weren’t very efficient on the free throw line, and that’s been our Achilles heel all year long, On the technical at the end, we had a freshman go in and forgot to tell another player to come out. But we should have noticed that as coaches. But I’m real proud of our guys, we fought the whole game.”
Lamont Sams, the 6-foot-9 Jenkins senior, has been coming into his own since the Region 3-3A tournament. The transfer from Savannah High had 14 points, battling through a tweaked ankle most of the night.
“This feels so good because at the start of the season, nobody thought we were going to be here,” Sams said. “We had some bumps in the road along the way, but we put our differences aside and came together to find a way to win.”
Scott scored 10 points and Fisher added nine for the Warriors.
“We’re feeling good right now and we’re ready to go win it all,” a fired-up Scott said in front of the Jenkins locker room.
Fisher thought it was one of the team’s best performances of the season.
“We never panicked,” said Fisher, who transferred in from a school in New Orleans. “That’s what champions do, and we played like champions tonight.”