FLOWERY BRANCH — The No. 2 seed out of Region 6-AAA, Sandy Creek, had a huge cross to bear in its matchup with Region 7-AAA champion Flowery Branch on Tuesday night at Falcon Fieldhouse.
Izaan Cross to be exact.
The junior center had 14 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Class AAA No. 8-ranked Falcons to a 71-65 win and a spot in the state quarterfinals, where they will face the No. 3- ranked team in the state, Dunwoody, at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Mount Zion High School in Jonesboro.
"I thought we would have an advantage in the game with Izaan (Cross), Flowery Branch coach Todd Cottrell said. "His heart is as big as he is and he plays that way.
"I am just happy for the kids. It’s good to see good things happen to good kids."
Sandy Creek (19-10), after a back-and-forth first quarter, gave the standing-room only Flowery Branch (26-3) crowd reason to jeer in the second quarter by going up 11 points thanks, in part, to an 11-point effort by senior strong forward Blake Brewer.
Brewer finished with 19 points and had nine rebounds. Sandy Creek was led in scoring by senior Darius Harris who had 20 points in the loss.
A 6-1 run, sparked by the inside play of reserve Otis Clark and capped by a Tracy Sykes layup, by the Falcons to end the half had the Flowery Branch contingency sighing collectively with their team only down six points going into halftime.
Sykes finished with 10 points.
"The crowd was great," Cottrell said. "They really helped our intensity on defense and in the second half."
The momentum swing that brought Flowery Branch back from a double-digit deficit in the second quarter carried it in the second half.
Add in the fact that junior shooting guard Josh Barrett began hitting from beyond the 3-point line after a dismal shooting performance in the first half.
The Falcons were on their way back.
Flowery Branch cut the lead to two points when Cross followed his own shot and hit the putback, making the score 49-47 in favor of Sandy Creek with a minute to go in the third quarter.
The score had not been tied since the six-minute mark in the first quarter and the Falcons had not held a lead since the one-minute mark in that same period.
All that would change thanks to Barrett whose 3-pointer from the corner tied the game at 53 and whose free throw shooting gave his team a lead twice in a two minute span, the final time for a lead they would not relinquish.
"Josh Barrett is the ultimate team player," Cottrell said. "He’s a fierce competitor and a very good basketball player."
Barrett finished with a team-high 18 points and dished out five assists, Rashad Tate also had five assists for the Falcons.
Flowery Branch, which scored 24 points in the fourth quarter, was 8-of-8 from the free throw line to finish the game and had a big defensive play when, with less than a minute to go and his team up only four, Cross drew a charge giving his team another possession and chance to extend their lead with free throws.
"We just have great kids that believe in each other," Cottrell said.