By Zach Shugan
ROSWELL, Ga. — If there was any doubt remaining, the 2020-21 Centennial boys basketball team cemented itself as one of the best teams in program history Friday night when it pulled off a double-digit comeback and defeated Winder-Barrow in the Class 6A Sweet 16.
With the 66-58 win, Centennial (23-4) advanced to the 6A Elite Eight, joining the 2007-08 Knights as the only teams in program history to make it this far in the state playoffs.
“It feels great,” Centennial head coach Matt Barksdale said. “Credit goes to my guys. They’ve bought in and worked hard. This has been like a three-year process with me. I got here in 2018 and we kind of set the tone for the team culture. We improved last year and obviously improved a lot this year. I’m proud of my seniors and proud of the guys.”
Defeating the upset-minded Winder-Barrow (16-11) took a major turnaround for Centennial. The Bulldoggs controlled the game early, starting on a 8-0 run and leading 19-9 at the end of the first quarter. The Knights were able to stay calm and stop the bleeding by the end of the first half, trailing 32-25 at halftime.
“We met at the end of the first quarter and I was just like ‘Look, we got our bad quarter out of the way. We started slow. Let’s pick things up,'” Barksdale said. “And they did a great job of doing that.”
Centennial made its move in the third quarter. The Knights went on an 18-6 run to close out the third, taking a 50-46 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Sophomore Mansir Williamson scored 12 points in the quarter and found senior Julian Nixon late in the period for a three-pointer to give Centennial its first lead of the night.
The Knights sealed the deal in the fourth quarter by holding off the Bulldoggs defensively and knocking down free throws on the other end of the court.
“We had a really slow start, but we won the second quarter, we won the third quarter and we won the fourth quarter,” Barksdale said. “The guys responded.”
Centennial senior Logan Turner scored a team-high 23 points (10-for-11 on free throws) in addition to 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Barksdale lauded Turner for his all-around performance in the win.
“Logan had a great game. He was aggressive on defense. He got some easy ones around the basket. And the free throws, he iced the game with his free throws. I’m super proud of the way he finished the game.”
Barksdale also praised senior Kyle Duncan (13 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists), who posted a double-double for the second game in a row.
“Kyle’s hard to contain when teams go to man [defense]. He was big attacking the rim down the stretch.”
Following its emotional win in the Sweet 16, Centennial awaits the result of one-seed Evans and three-seed Tucker in their Sweet 16 game Saturday. If Evans (20-2) wins, the Knights will travel to the Augusta suburb for the Elite Eight. If Tucker (15-6) pulls off the upset, the Knights will be back at home for the big game.