The Carrollton High School senior forward threw down a monster slam off a Greater Atlanta Christian turnover with 58 seconds left to kick off the Carrollton Christmas Tournament championship celebration behind a stunning, 61-54 victory over the previously unbeaten Spartans, a preseason favorite to win the Class AA state crown.
Trailing by nine early in the second half, Carrollton (7-1) kept plugging away and finally got over the hump on a pair of Byron McCall free throws with 5:50 left in the fourth quarter, setting the stage for a dramatic last few minutes in a showdown that featured all you could ask for in a championship bout between two hoop heavyweights.
And as the momentum slowly swung the Trojans’ way as the game grew deeper, Carrollton coach Tim Criswell sensed that his ball club was about to do something special.
“You kind of feel it sometimes when you get that momentum going your way. I’ve been on the other end of it when it’s hard to stop. But we kind of got the momentum going our way. No matter who you are or what you’re doing, when that starts — especially when you’re on the road — man, it’s tough,” Tim Criswell said.
The Spartans (9-1) tied the game up at 50-all with 1:33 left, but the Trojans rattled off six straight points from there — two on the dunk sandwiched around a Montae Glenn bucket and a pair of free throws from Javarious Jackson — and GAC wouldn’t get any closer than four from that point.
Jackson scored five of his seven points in the fourth quarter, including knocking down 3-of-4 free-throw attempts in the final 37.3 seconds to help seal the win and Riley Criswell matched his jersey number with a game-high 30-point outburst. McCall also had a solid night with nine points and several big defensive plays.
Isaiah Wilkins led GAC with 17 points, followed by Collin Swinton with 14.
And for a Carrollton team that is starting to come into its own, Tim Criswell is hopeful that his ball club can carry this momentum into its next holiday adventure at the Indian Shootout in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., next week and then over to Region 5-AAAA play come early January.
“Our guys are really starting to gel a little bit. We just beat a really good basketball team,” Tim Criswell said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them right now. We found a way to win ... I mean, what a great basketball game. It was a great atmosphere and just a great game.”
In other Christmas Tournament action from Saturday:
Carrollton girls 56, Monroe 39: A late-game altercation marred the Lady Trojans’ bounce-back victory over the Lady Tornadoes during Saturday’s matinee.
With Carrollton (7-1) up 17 points and 2:52 remaining in the fourth quarter, a scramble for a loose ball resulted in an ugly situation that saw Monroe guard Cedriania Waters kick Carrollton guard Kenyata Hendrix in the face, leading to the two teams having to be separated in what was already an emotional and physical ball game.
After the dust appeared to have cleared, Waters and Carrollton forward Tasmine Boykin were ejected, and then an assistant coach from Monroe was whistled for a technical foul for using foul language directed toward an official, prompting the coach to call the Monroe players off the court and toward the locker room.
When the officials attempted to regain control of the game and bring the Monroe players back on the court, things escalated again before play was able to even start back up, ultimately leading to the decision to call the game then and there with 2:52 still left in the contest.
Needless to say, it wasn’t the ending Carrollton coach Shon Thomaston wanted nor envisioned on the final day of the tournament.
“I’m never one to blame officiating or any one else for the way a ball game is played, but I felt this game was allowed to get out of control long before any incident took place,” Thomaston said. “We had already talked about it on the bench and the sidelines about how certain things were going on out there that may have been called on one end but maybe weren’t called on the other end and vice versa. So it was going on both ways. But at the same time, they’re teaching their kids to play hard and I’m teaching mine to play hard. And when you get two teams of girls that are really playing hard and trying to do it the right way, the game has got to be called to clean up anything that you see that you think is excessive. It doesn’t take but one excessive play to lose control of everything.”
And while the situation obviously wasn’t pretty, the Carrollton coach didn’t fault any of his players for what took place on Saturday.
“I don’t think any of my kids deserved an ejection. I don’t. And I’m not going to go in here and beat my kid up over the head, because I teach my girls to play aggressive and play hard. Unfortunately, one of my girls got kicked in the face during a tied-up situation and a group of girls that call themselves sisters, they’re going to protect one another. But I still don’t think anything dirty or unnecessary took place that required an ejection,” Thomaston said.
As for the game itself, the Lady Trojans led from start to finish, building a 12-6 lead after the first quarter and taking a 26-14 advantage into the half.
Monroe (9-2) kept it close throughout the third quarter, using a 9-0 run to pull within six at 31-25 before Carrollton’s Alecia North connected on an old-fashioned three-point play and then drilled a shot from beyond the arc to put the Lady Trojans back up by 13 with 51 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Carrollton stretched its lead to as big as 22 points in the fourth quarter before it was called with just under three minutes left.
Hendrix led all scorers with 16 points, while North added 11 and Brooklyn Emory finished with 10 to round out Carrollton’s double-figure scorers. Waters had 11 to lead Monroe, followed by Paige Cox with 10 and Cekeya Mack with eight.
And coming off the first loss of the season on Friday night against Randolph-Clay, Thomaston was pleased with his team’s performance Saturday — he just hated to see it end the way it did.
“It was a good bounce-back game for us from [Friday]. You know, we didn’t play hard at all [Friday]. We laid down a little bit and allowed ourselves to not even have a chance to win a game [Friday] night. We came back with a better effort [Saturday]. We played more as a team, we defended a lot better and we put ourselves in a position to win,” Thomaston said. “It’s just unfortunate that it had to conclude the way it did.”