Before it was through, Crusaders’ leading scorer this season, Jonathan Hammond, also fouled out on a night where two of Monsignor Donovan’s players, including its leading scorer, B.J. Barrett (13 points), also fouled out. Both teams also had another player each with four fouls.
You get the picture — it was a physical game.
Through it all, Griffin Christian never missed a beat, proving its depth, resilience and toughness time and time again.
First, Aqil Gilani came in off the bench and made a free throw. Then C.J. Lewis nailed his first of three baskets in the fourth quarter before Dunn drained a pair of free throws and Aaron McCray added another from the free throw line as the Crusaders kept pace with the Rams.
Then the run started.
Lewis, whose defense kept the other team’s best player in check, added his second and third jump shots of the fourth quarter before Amir Hightower, who provided an emotional spark on defense, made three of four free throws to set the table for Dunn’s game-tying field goal with 1:57 left.
Dunn’s shot made it 43-all.
By the time Dunn’s game-winning free throw swished the net with :02.7 left and Monsignor Donovan called timeout with the ball under its basket with :01.9 remaining, the mounting excitement was obvious as Griffin Christian’s run was nearly through.
When Lewis stole the ball after an in-bounds pass to midcourt and ran out the remaining time, head coach Mic Savage and the rest of his staff could do nothing but breath a sigh of relief and beam from ear to ear as the celebration between fans and the team broke out all around them.
It was the consummation of what good coaching is all about.
After all, coaching staffs the world around spend the offseason and most of the season trying to preach, teach and develop the team concept in hopes that when the chips are down and the best players aren’t in the lineup — as is bound to be at some point — the team keeps moving forward.
Toward that end, Savage and his staff must have shed a tear or two Saturday after it was all over.
“I couldn’t have been prouder of them — so many of them stepped up,” said Savage, in his fourth year guiding the Crusaders. “It was truly a team effort.”
Statistically it played out that way too. Griffin Christian had six players score six or more points. Dunn led the way with 8, but Hightower and Hammond had 7 each, while Savage, Lewis and David Thomas had 6 each. Dunn’s 12 rebounds led the team, but Thomas pulled in 5 critical rebounds and had three blocked shots while Lewis added 4 rebounds as well as steal at the end to solidify the team’s efforts.
It capped a week that started 48 hours earlier when Hammond scored 24 points, including 10 of his team’s 11 in the second overtime, of a 62-57 opening-round win against the fourth-seeded Brentwood School.
Griffin Christian’s reward for securing both victories is reaching Friday’s GISA Class AA state-semifinal round game 5:30 p.m., at Mercer University in Macon against co-No. 2-state ranked First Presbyterian Christian Academy. The winner of Friday’s game advances to the state finals less than 24 hours later on the same court for a 5 p.m., tipoff Saturday against the co-No. 2 ranked Memorial Day and No. 5-ranked Gatewood winner.
Regardless if Griffin Christian advances to the state finals for the second year in a row or not, it has already earned a feather in its cap. No team left in the tournament has had as tough a road. Griffin Christian’s two wins have been by a combined margin of 6 points — a far cry from Gatewood’s 21 points, First Presbyterian’s 42 points and Memorial Day’s whopping 53 points.
It’s the stuff of character, it’s the stuff of heart and it’s the stuff of legend.
(John Sullivan is the sports editor at the Griffin Daily News.)