It was the 2003 Class AAA state finals at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the campus of Georgia Tech. Without a doubt, No. 4-ranked Griffin (27-3) was the underdog against No. 1-ranked South Atlanta (30-1) going into the game.
South Atlanta was led by Vincent Banks, Mr. Georgia - who averaged 30 or so points a game. Griffin’s leading scorer was senior Pete Driver, who averaged 20.
Going in Qualls knew two things: One, South Atlanta’s other four starters and Griffin’s next three starters were about even. Two: He had to find a way to help Driver neutralize Banks in the point column.
His first assessment was right on. South Atlanta’s other four starters totaled 26 points, while Griffin’s next three starters totaled 23. All the time Qualls was playing to get to his team’s fifth starter - then sophomore Jay Brown, who consequently totaled 13 points. Griffin, which trailed by as many as 12 points twice in the second quarter and 36-27 at the half, needed every point.
The question became how was the Banks-Driver match-up going to end?
This is where Qualls second assessment became the stuff of legend. He knew he had two Division I caliber-football players on his bench in Sherrod Martin (Troy) and J.T. Nash (Georgia Southern).
One at a time he put both in for a brief spell in the second quarter to get Banks’s rhythm and pace. A wry smile crossed his lips when each exited the court. Know, if you know Qualls you know he seldom smiled during a game. It was at this point I turned to the AJC writer and told him Griffin was going to win.
He thought I was crazy after all South Atlanta was leading by 12 at the time. When the teams came out in the second half, Qualls sprung his second plan into action.
He alternated Martin and Nash shadowing (live in his shirt shadowing) Banks the entire third quarter - not even caring if either touched the ball. I think one did one time.
It worked. Banks scored 32 points before fouling out with 32.4 seconds to play, while Driver scored a career-high 34 points to neutralize him in a 72-62 Griffin victory.