MILLEDGEVILLE -- In a game that was supposed to be a battle of big men, guards ultimately played a key role in deciding things.
Pace Academy, with 6-foot-10 junior blue-chip prospect Wendell Carter Jr. manning the middle, went up against Crawford County, whose 6-5 swing man, William Jarrell, likes to battle inside as much as put it up from the perimeter. But it was Pace Academy's guards, led by Zach Kaminsky and Barrett Baker, who ultimately swung the game in the Knights' direction.
After Crawford County rallied from a cold-shooting first quarter to take a halftime lead, the Pace Academy guards stepped up in the third quarter and got hot from outside. Their 3-pointers helped the Knights take an eight-point lead into the fourth quarter, where Pace Academy ultimately put away the Eagles, 61-51.
Pace Academy now heads to the Class AA title game Friday at the Macon Coliseum, where it takes on Manchester, a 63-53 winner over Monticello.
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FIVE WHO MATTERED
Kaminsky: His 13-point night included three 3-pointers, two of which came in the decisive third quarter.
Carter: Rated by 247sports as a five-star power forward, Carter was held to six points in the first half. But his seven points in the final quarter helped put the game away. He also had 16 rebounds and four blocks.
Isaiah Kelly: Carter's partner in the paint led Pace Academy with 20 points, adding 11 rebounds.
Jarrell: His 3-pointer from 24 feet to beat the horn at halftime gave Crawford County a 25-24 lead. But he only finished with 12 points.
Marcal Knolton: He helped keep Crawford County within striking distance until fouling out with 1:25 to go. He also finished with 12 points.
Baker made a 3-pointer with 4:24 to go in the third quarter to give Pace Academy (19-10) a 33-27 lead. Jarrell answered with a 3-pointer of his own 18 seconds later, but Kaminsky's 3-pointers, coming with 3:38 and 1:20 remaining in the third, swung momentum Pace Academy's way for good.
Eagles undeterred by early cold spell: Jarrell scored the first point of the game on a free throw, but Crawford County (25-4) went super cold after that. The Eagles missed their first 11 shots, not scoring again until a Jarrell basket with 2:40 to go in the first. Pace opened up a 9-1 lead during that time, but Crawford County responded by going 8-of-15 from the field in the second quarter.
Shaking up the Centennial Center: Jarrell's 3-pointer at the end of the first half set off arguably the loudest celebration of the day at the Centennial Center. Other than the Pace Academy student body, most of the crowd of nearly 4,000 took kindly to Jarrell's shot, bringing about an incredibly loud round of Crawford County's traditional "Fire up CC" chant. It was the only time all night in which that chant was used.
Some help for the big man: Carter was visibly frustrated at times when shots wouldn't drop and calls didn't go his way. He only had eight points through three quarters. But Kelly helped out in a big way underneath, scoring all but three of his points in the first three quarters.
Senior farewell: Crawford County loses seven seniors off a team that went to the Class AA title game last year. Three of those players are starters: Jarrell, Monkeize Moore and Quay Wiggins. A fourth, Jeremy Raines, got plenty of time off the bench.
THEY SAID IT
Pace Academy head coach Demetrius Smith on the Knights' guard play: "Zach Kaminsky stepped up in the third quarter and did what he has been doing all year, knocking down shots. I told him at halftime, 'If you're going to make those shots, you're going to have to shoot them relentlessly. He did a great job of that."
Crawford County head coach Clyde Zachery on the impact of Pace Academy's guards in the third quarter: "We were collapsing on them on defense, and we started collapsing they hit a couple of 3s. That brought us back out, and the big guy went to work."
Zachery on the departure of the Eagles' senior class: "We are proud of them, and this won't take away from what they've already done."