TUNNEL HILL —
There wasn’t a comeback this time.
Northwest Whitfield High School’s boys basketball team fell behind by double digits in the first quarter of Wednesday night’s game against Atlanta’s Grady in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament, and the Grey Knights thwarted all rallies in a 62-46 victory.
The Bruins (23-4) — the No. 1 seed from Region 7 — trailed by 13 points in the third quarter of last week’s region tournament semifinals against River Ridge before winning 59-56. They also trailed 29-23 at halftime in Saturday’s region championship against Dalton but went on a third-quarter run and won 69-62.
This time the second half looked more like the first.
After Grady (19-9) closed the first quarter with a 20-7 lead, Northwest had its best three-minute stretch of the night. The Bruins cut the deficit to 23-18 after a 3-pointer and 3-point play by Tanner Quarles, who finished with a game-high 17 points. The Grey Knights, the No. 4 seed from Region 6, responded with six consecutive points and led 34-23 at halftime.
Northwest didn’t get within 10 points the rest of the game.
“We took some really suspect shots at times,” Bruins coach Ryan Richards said. “Early on we were forcing shots because the speed of the game was an adjustment. Late we were forcing shots because we were trying to cut a deficit.”
The Bruins finished 5-for-21 from behind the 3-point line — shy of 25 percent — and 15-for-48 from the field. Grady only made three 3-pointers but had more than 10 offensive rebounds and got easy points on second shots.
“We have to double-team like three of them, so it’s hard to (defend that),” said Northwest senior O’Shea Hill, who finished with nine points.
At 6 feet, 3 inches, Hill is the tallest player on the Bruins’ roster, while Grady has 6-9 Brandon Watkins and at least two other players taller than Hill.
The Grey Knights’ ticket to the playoffs was hard-earned even if it was as a No. 4 seed.
The teams that finished ahead of Grady in the region — South Atlanta, Columbia and Marist — were ranked second through fourth in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Class 4A poll.
Grady’s Avi Toomer had 16 points against the Bruins, while Kivon Taylor added 13.
“This is the first time in a long time, according to the AJC, that we’ve won a state playoff game,” Grady coach Brian Weeden said. “It’s real big for us.”
It was a sudden ending to a big year for the Bruins, who beat rival Dalton three times this year and made the state tournament for the first time since the 2006-2007 season. The school has been in existence since 1975, but this is the first time its boys basketball team has won a region title.
This was the first loss for the team since Dec. 28 in Murray County’s Farm Bureau Christmas Classic against the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences.
“We built something this year that we want to continue to build on to next year,” Richards said. “... You can’t say anything bad about our kids and the effort they gave.”