SUWANEE, GA--The Boys Basketball Team was seconds away from beating one of the best teams in Georgia: the Thompson Bulldogs from Augusta. However, Thompson senior point guard Antonio Coleman stole the ball from the Islanders' Kaleb Warner and scored with five seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 64-63 win over Mercer Island in the fifth place game of the Jared Cook Tournament held in Suwanee.
Thompson, ranked #3 in Georgia Class AAA, remains undefeated at 9-0 while Mercer Island drops to 6-3.
"I was proud of the guys. That was the No. 3 ranked team in Georgia Class AAA and 8-0 coming into the game," Coach Gavin Cree said. "They're about as athletic a team as you will see."
"We went toe to toe with them. We had the game won, really, and they stole the ball from us, but I was really proud of our guys. They left it all out there, and as a coach, that's all you can ask for. We did a ton of good things. We're a better team leaving here than we were when we came here, and that was our ultimate goal," Cree said.
The first quarter was evenly played, and it was reflected in the game being tied 18-18 at the quarter's end. Mercer Island sophomore guard Warner had the hot hand early with two three-pointers. The Islanders did a solid job of defending the post in the first quarter, forcing Thompson's burley 6'4 center Jonathan Atkins into committing offensive fouls.
"It took our big guy a little time to get used to how the game was being officiated in the post. He was making the same moves he's been making the last three and a half years. Every officiating crew calls it a little different. Once he got used to how the game was going to be officiated, he played a much better second half," Thompson Head Coach Michael Thomas said.
In the second quarter, Thompson's guards were heating up from the outside as Coleman and Ronkeem Sallywhite were knocking down three-pointers. The Bulldogs employed their full court press for much of the game, but for the most part, the Islanders were able to handle the pressure. By halftime, Mercer Island only trailed 39-36.
The third quarter saw both teams go toe to toe with each other, with Thompson having a 51-50 edge at the quarter's end. With a little over a minute to play in the game, and Mercer Island up 63-62, Sallywhite's three-pointer went half way down and came out and the Islanders got the rebound.
Mercer Island had chances to extend the lead, but the Bulldogs made two big defensive plays down the stretch. The first one was Joe Rasmussen's shot being blocked out of bounds by the Bulldogs' Dwayne Williams. The Islanders maintained possession, but senior forward Brian Miller leaned his shoulder into a Thompson defender, and was called for an offensive foul.
On the Bulldogs' next possession, Coleman tried a long three-pointer, resulting in an air ball that went out of bounds. With 26.4 seconds to play, the Islanders had the ball and a 1 point lead. Thompson went to a man-to-man full court trap and the Islanders were hoping to force the Bulldogs to foul. However, as Warner was dribbling the ball and being guarded by Thompson's Biquavious Sturgis, Coleman came in from behind, stole the ball and took it the other way for a layup, giving the Bulldogs a 64-63 lead with five seconds left.
After Cree called a timeout, the Islanders' center, Karsten Sherman, in-bounded the ball to Sam Cohn at half court, but Cohn bumped into a Thompson defender and lost the ball out of bounds with four seconds left. Brian Miller intercepted the Bulldogs' in-bound pass and threw the ball to Warner for a last-second shot. However, Warner slipped and fell as the buzzer sounded, and Thompson escaped with a 64-63 victory.
"It would have been nice to win the whole tournament. We felt like we could have, but the ultimate goal was to get better and I thought we did that. I told the guys that we came into this game as a hungry team and we didn't get to eat, so we're going home as a hungry team. That's a good thing," Cree said.
When asked how Thompson compares to the teams they face back home, Cree said that Thompson is similar to teams they face in the district playoffs and state qualifying games.
"A lot of teams in the Seattle Metro League are similar athletically. In fact, that team (Thompson), in some ways, is superior to a lot of those teams. The fact that we were right there to beat them speaks highly of our ability to get it done in the post-season when it matters," Cree said.
The Islanders return home tomorrow. After Christmas, they have a home game Dec. 29 against a team from Australia at 7:30 p.m., then travel to Interlake on Jan. 3. Tipoff for that game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.