JEFFERSON – Even in the boisterous confines of its own gym, the Jefferson boys’ basketball team knew it couldn't let a team like top-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian get ahead.
Easier said than done.
The Dragons struggled to break the unbeaten Spartans' aggressive defense, falling 60-47 in the Class AA state quarterfinals on Thursday.
Jefferson (26-6) was held to its second-lowest point total of the season, while defending state champion GAC (30-0) punched its ticket to the semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons.
"When you're in a hole against the No. 1 team in the state, it's hard to come back," Dragons coach Bolling DuBose said. "But they didn't quit, and they just stayed tight. I was proud of them."
The battle between the two top-10 teams was in the hands of the Spartans for the majority of the night. After a close first quarter, the game spiraled out of Jefferson's control late in the second quarter and into the third, leaving GAC uncontested by the final quarter of play with a 47-28 lead.
The Spartans will face Laney in the Class AA semifinals on Saturday at Columbus State University, with a chance to play either Vidalia or Calhoun in the championship game.
"What's driving us right now is we want to get to that state championship," GAC coach Eddie Martin said. "There's tunnel vision on that right now. We want to get back to that state championship. All the other stuff is kind of behind us right now."
The Spartans may have survived playing in one of the toughest environments all season. Fans packed Jefferson High's volume-friendly 65-year old gym for Thursday's game, and didn't quiet down until the final buzzer.
Martin admitted the crowd noise affected his team, but not enough to derail them.
"This place was super loud tonight," Martin said. "I thought our guys did a great job of echoing calls. If we call something to one person, they have to echo it out to others."
The end result was four players in double figures for the Spartans, including Justin Lewis' team-high 22 and Isaiah Wilkins' 12 points and 15 rebounds.
Wilkins, a 6-foot-8 Virginia commit, was especially frustrating for Jefferson. He helped GAC outrebound the Dragons 36-26, ultimately cutting off their attacking room inside the paint.
Paired with an underwhelming shooting performance by Jefferson, the Spartans' defense was seemingly dominant at times.
"What we wanted to do is spread them out and draw Isaiah away from the basket," DuBose said. "Get him to the top of the circle and keep him from blocking shots.
"But your best players have to hit the shots they normally hit. We missed some tonight, and that happens. You have good shooting nights and bad shooting nights."
Three players ended up double figures for Jefferson, including a double-double performance Satchel Turpin (12 points, 10 rebounds). Roc Young and Tay Taylor also tallied 12, with Taylor also pulling down nine rebounds.
Turpin's 3-pointer 3½ minutes into the first quarter gave Jefferson its last lead of the night at 8-7. GAC responded with a 13-5 run to close out the period with a 20-13 lead.
Led by Lewis' 12 first-half points, the Spartans pulled further ahead in the second quarter, outscoring the Dragons 16-8 to take a 36-21 lead into the half.
GAC continued to limit Jefferson's scoring chances in the third, pulling down 12 rebounds to the Dragons' five and holding them to just two baskets from the field with one 3-pointer.
"That stretch at the end of the second quarter and the beginning of third quarter hurt us," DuBose said. "In the first quarter we got a lot offensive rebounds, which surprised me. As the second went along, it started getting less and less. Into the third quarter it was kind of the same thing – we were kind of one and done."
Jefferson got within 13 of GAC midway through the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer by Young followed by a pair of free throws by Taylor.
That was as close as the Dragons would get, though, despite draining four threes in what became their last quarter of the season.
"We just kept attacking the basket," DuBose said. "We finally hit a few threes in the fourth quarter to make it closer than it was. We just needed to hit some shots in the middle of the game, and we didn't do it."
Jefferson's season is complete with the loss.