By Zach Shugan
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — For the first time in over a decade, the Centennial boys basketball team will enter the region tournament as the top seed for finishing first in the regular season standings. Adding to the accomplishment, the Knights earned the top spot by taking down the defending 6A state champion and their rival Chattahoochee in the final game of the regular season.
Centennial (19-3, 13-1) defeated Chattahoochee (17-3, 12-2) on the road Saturday in a double-overtime thriller by a score of 69-59. With the win the Knights claimed the top seed in the Region 7-6A tournament, which begins next week. The Cougars will be the second seed.
“It was a fun one,” Centennial head coach Matt Barksdale said. “It was one of those games where I wish we weren’t in a pandemic because it would’ve been an absolute insanely-packed gym. But it was a fun one. We went on some runs. They went on some runs. We both ended up responding going to double overtime. It was a fun game.”
Although the Knights ended up winning by double digits, the score was neck-and-neck for much of the game. A buzzer-beating three pointer by Kyle Duncan gave Centennial a 22-19 lead at the break following a defensive first half.
Shots started falling at a higher rate for both teams in the third quarter, but the difference on the scoreboard remained the same. Centennial led 39-36 entering the fourth quarter following a buzzer-beating three pointer by Brian Baylor from the corner.
Just as they did for the first three quarters, the teams went back and forth in the fourth quarter. A put-back layup by Logan Turner gave Centennial a two-point lead with 1:28 remaining, then A.J. White tied the game for Chattahoochee 30 seconds later.
White had a chance to win the game in regulation for the Cougars, but his three-point attempt from the corner rimmed out, sending the game to overtime.
Duncan scored five unanswered points to give Centennial a 57-52 lead in overtime, but White scored six points in the final minute of the period, including three clutch free throws with 5.5 seconds left, to tie the game for Chattahoochee and send it to double overtime.
With multiple players fouled out, including Centennial’s Duncan and Chattahoochee’s Tomiwa Adetosoye, the Knights were able to pull away in double overtime to win their 10th game in a row and their fourth in five days.
“I think we were a little tired, a little worn out,” Barksdale said. “It was a dog fight of a game in the first half. The way they play and the way we play, we both like to get up and down the floor. Once they got their legs back and we got our legs back, there was a little bit more offense and less defense. There’s always going to be some scoring when we play Chattahoochee because they can fill it up.”
Duncan finished with a game-high 21 points, 16 of which came after halftime, along with 9 rebounds.
“Kyle had a really good game,” Barksdale said. “In the second half he got really aggressive, and he was playing downhill. When Kyle is playing downhill, that’s when he’s at his best. It’s always fun when the light switch goes off for him and he becomes more offensive minded. He’s a really good defender. He’s a really good passer and super unselfish. But it’s always fun when that light goes off and he gets really aggressive offensively.”
Centennial’s senior class, which includes Duncan, Turner, Julian Nixon and K.J. Spooney, has never made it to the state playoffs. The Knights missed the cut in their first two years under Barksdale but look to reverse their fortune in their third year together.
Entering the region tournament as the top seed for the first time since the 2009-10 season, Centennial will take on Cambridge (6-16, 1-13) in the first round of this year’s region tournament. A win over the Bears would guarantee the Knights a spot in the state playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season, and a win in the second round would guarantee them homecourt advantage against a lower-seeded team in the first round of the state playoffs. A loss to the Bears, however, would end the Knights’ season on the spot, keeping them from the state playoffs for the sixth year in a row.
“This was a good win, but the real season starts Wednesday,” Barksdale said. “It doesn’t mean anything to be a regular season region champion. It’s win or our season is over.”
Kyle Duncan (Sr.) – 21 pts, 9 reb, 1 blk
Mansir Williamson (So.) – 14 pts, 5 reb
Logan Turner (Sr.) – 10 pts, 6 reb, 1 asst
K.J. Spooney (Sr.) – 7 pts, 4 reb, 2 asst
Brian Baylor (Jr.) – 7 pts, 2 reb
Wade Kahl (Jr.) – 6 pts, 8 reb, 1 asst, 1 blk
Julian Nixon (Sr.) – 4 pts, 8 reb, 2 asst
A.J. White (Sr.) – 21 pts, 3 reb, 4 asst
Jordan Brown (Jr.) – 15 pts, 4 reb, 4 asst
Keith Murray (Sr.) 13 pts, 7 reb, 1 asst
Tomiwa Adetosoye (Jr.) – 4 pts, 5 reb, 1 asst
Cameron James (Fr.) – 4 pts, 1 reb
Gil Matondo (Jr.) – 2 pts, 6 reb, 2 asst, 2 blk
Avi Haritsa (Jr.) – 3 reb