Heartbreak in overtime: Bulldogs fall short in Final Four

Anthony Cooper, a senior who starred with the Morgan basketball team throughout his four years, squats and covers his face after the final buzzer sounds, signaling the end of his basketball career.

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard



The Morgan County boys basketball season did not get the storybook ending the Bulldogs wanted.

Last Saturday at Georgia Southern’s Armstrong campus in Savannah, the Bulldogs competed in the Final Four round of the Class AAA state playoffs. They faced Greater Atlanta Christian. Morgan and GAC went back and forth in a game that couldn’t be decided in regulation. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, a foul with 2.7 seconds remaining in overtime sent a Spartan to the line where he converted on two free throw attempts to give GAC its decisive 73-71 edge.

Morgan faced an 11-0 deficit early in the first quarter but fought back. Despite the fact his players lost, Bulldogs head coach Jamond Sims said he expressed to them afterward how proud he was of their effort.

“We reflected back to what type of individuals they were as far as their makeup, their resilience,” Sims said. “I told them the average team would've quit or panicked being down 11-0 and would've folded, especially in this particular situation. I told them the average team would have panicked when they had to inbound the ball the full length of the court with 2.7 seconds. We executed and still had a chance to get a shot and win but it didn't bounce our way.”

Stevin Greene’s last-ditch heave toward the basket as time expired fell just short of the goal and bounced under it.

The Spartans stormed the court in celebration. The Bulldogs took their time walking off it in a stunned state of despair.

The magical 2017-18 season ended in heartbreak. The players wanted to make up for losing the state championship game last season; unfortunately for them, they didn’t even get the chance to play for the title – the first time they’ve missed the finals in five years.

“At this particular stage, the Final Four, there are no slouches, there are no bad teams,” Sims said. “And being who we are, we get everybody's best shot. I reminded them back to when we were playing the region championship game and every shot that Hart threw up, it went in. You run into those teams that shoot the ball really, really well. On any given night, you can run into that team and [Saturday] was GAC's night. They shot the ball really well and hat's off to them.”

On the flip side, Morgan struggled overall from the field, at least compared to its usual output.

Juniors Alec Woodard and Tyrin Lawrence, normally the team’s offensive anchors, scored just 18 and 6 points respectively. Lawrence was limited from the get-go thanks to two early fouls (he barely played in the first half) and Sims said he thought Woodard’s relatively quiet night was a result of him feeding Greene, who led the team with 34 points.

“It was just one of those nights when [Lawrence] just missed shots,” Sims said. “Alec probably turned down a lot of shots just to get the ball over to Stevin. ... They kept giving the ball to Stevin and Stevin was getting it done. Alec probably could've taken more shots but it was just one of those situations where he recognized that Stevin had the hot hand. Not just Alec – a lot of those guys kept finding Stevin, kept putting him in situations to score.”

More often than not, Greene came through.

The Spartans had no answer for the junior guard. He was able to knock down shots on the perimeter, from mid-range and inside despite being outsized by most of GAC’s defenders.

Greene hit some of the most important shots of the game, including a long-range 3-pointer to tie the game at 61 with 15.9 seconds remaining in regulation. Sims called Greene the Bulldogs’ “spark plug” and said he, along with senior forward Anthony Cooper, often helps give Morgan an offensive jolt.

Sims said he gave Greene an encouraging word before his monster performance.

“After we did the pregame announcements, I shook each one of their hands and I whispered something special that I was thinking of each one of those guys,” he said. “When I got to Stevin, I told him, 'Tonight's your night. This is your game. You control the tempo of the game and nobody can stop you.' And he probably had that mindset coming into the game and he proved it.”

Saturday’s loss marked the final game for the team’s seniors. Latrabius Stokes, Tre’Mon Moore, Austin Hoopengardner, Yusuf Baig, Anthony Thomas, Quin Williams and Cooper finished their careers with a bunch of victories, a handful of region championships and a state title.

They also represent the first class Sims coached at Morgan from start to finish; their first year at MCHS was Sims’ first year as well.

When reflecting on the veterans, Sims said their legacy is more about their effort than their record.

“This senior class is kind of like the ones that the historians will look back on and they'll look at the stats, they'll look at the accumulation of wins and losses over the course of their four years and they won't see a name that's gonna flash in lights,” Sims said. “They won't see a name that's going to stand out and be like, 'Wow, yes, yes, that was the best player ever,' but what they will see is a collection of individuals that never mind hard work. They never shied away from any competition, regardless of the level of their classification. They always want to play the best competition. They feel as though they're the best team in the state of Georgia.”

Sims likened Saturday’s game to a boxing match. GAC threw a haymaker in the first quarter to run out 11-0 but the Bulldogs “took it on the chin,” as Sims put it, and fought back into the game.

Each team took a brief lead at different points in the fourth quarter and the extra period. In the end, it was the Spartans who landed the final punch.

Morgan rallied around the idea of unfinished business this season following last year’s loss to Pace Academy in the state title game. Sims said he thinks his players will exhibit a similar attitude next season.

“A setback has probably never even crossed their mind, just for the mere fact that those guys just have the mindset of, if you tell them they can't do something or they can't be better, it drives them that much more,” he said. “They've always felt like they were overlooked or underappreciated, so I think that's what drives them. Let's say somebody comes out and they say something or they print something that puts a little doubt in the mind of others about the crew that's coming back. That will probably be the driving force that will push them to the edge. You'll probably see an even more determined group coming back. I'm looking forward to it.”

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