OAKWOOD — West Hall boys basketball coach Warren Sellers emerged from the bench a bit frazzled, but otherwise excited after Saturday’s 69-64 win against Shaw in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs in Oakwood.
Sellers’ squad took him on a roller coaster of emotion by building a 17-point cushion early in the fourth quarter, only to see it dwindle to three points when Antwann McFarland faked out two defenders and put in a basket with only 29 second left.
West Hall (24-5) finally secured the win at the free throw line when senior Dre Pou (team-high 16 points) hit one of two shots, making it a two-possession game with only 15 seconds remaining.
“That one got a little tense at the end,” Sellers said. “We let them have too many chances at the free throw line, and they seemed to make all of them.
“Give Shaw credit, they are who we thought they were and played us really tough.”
With the win, West Hall advances to the second round to face No. 1 Columbia (26-3) on Wednesday in Decatur. The Eagles, the defending Class AAA champs, advanced to the second round with a 91-38 win against Heritage-Catoosa on Friday.
Against Shaw, West Hall made its biggest statement with rebounding and using its size inside. The Spartans’ 6-foot-7 senior center William Stroup scored 14 points and blocked six shots, and 6-5 senior Shunquez Stephens had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Speedy senior Jarquise Young also played a big role for West Hall with 14 points, including a big steal and drive to the basket untouched that gave the Spartans a 43-34 lead 1:20 left to play in the third. After that, Stephens battled for a basket inside after a rebound of his own missed shot, and his younger brother Jamaad Stephens added a steal and slam dunk to take a 13-point lead into the fourth quarter.
According to Sellers, the tempo for the second half was set when Shunquez Stephens nailed a 3-point basket at the end of the first half. Jamaad Stephens’ only 3-pointer of the night came with 6:30 left to play in the game and gave the Spartans a 56-39 lead.
“I think the key to how we played tonight was that we had a great week of practice,” Sellers said. “Coach (Sam) Borg did an excellent job of giving us a scouting report of Shaw, so we knew exactly what to expect.”
“It feels great to win this one,” Shunquez Stephens said. “We practiced too hard to let this one go.”
And it took almost every bit of that 17-point lead for the Spartans to stay alive in the state tournament.
The biggest key down the stretch for the Raiders was hitting 11 of 14 free throws in the final period, while the Spartans hit
only seven of 13.
With only 1:30 left to play, Shaw’s Deionte Corprew hit a free throw immediately after the Spartans missed a pair, bringing the score to 65-59. Corprew finished with a team-high 16 points, including five 3-pointers.
Keeping it a two-possession game, Shaw’s Sean Buffen hit a pair of free throws to make it 67-62, followed by McFarland’s layup to make it a one-possession West Hall lead.
That’s when Pou stepped up with a big free throw with only 15 seconds left, followed by two more free throws by Shunquez Stephens to help the Spartans move along to the next round.
McFarland, Buffen and Torrian Brummitt all scored 14 for Shaw. The Raiders’ season is now finished.