OAKWOOD — With his team desperately trying to put away Cartersville on Friday, Shunquez Stephens did what any intelligent basketball player does: drive to the basket and try and draw a foul.
So, Stephens took the ball from the top of the key, drove down the left side of the lane, and when he felt a little contact, he fell toward the floor and flipped the ball over his head. No whistle, just nothing but net.
That’s the type of night it was for the junior forward.
“That shot was all luck,” said Stephens, who scored a game-high 25 points and pulled down 16 rebounds to lead West Hall to a 61-53 win over Cartersville in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament.
The Spartans (19-11) will face Elbert County in the second round on Tuesday in Elberton.
West Hall coach Warren Sellers assumed that his team would be facing the Blue Devils, but was more concerned about fixing some of the issues that arose in his team’s first-round victory.
“We shot it just horribly in the first half,” Sellers said. “We got the shots we wanted to get, but they weren’t falling. Those misses really effected our defensive intensity.”
The missed shots also allowed Cartersville (13-11) to keep the game close.
Thanks to the hot shooting of Teigh Dooley, who scored all 11 of his points in the second quarter, the Purple Hurricanes built a six-point lead and put West Hall on its heels.
The Spartans responded with a quick 5-0 scoring run to tie the game, and when it looked like Cartersville was going to head to the half with a two-point lead, Jarquise Young raced down the floor and tied the game with a layup at the buzzer. Young finished with nine points and five assists.
“We told them in the locker room that we shot horribly in the first half and we were still tied,” Sellers said. “The fact that we won a lot of close games this season gave us confidence in the second half.”
So too did knowing the best player on the floor was wearing blue and white.
Stephens single-handedly went on a 4-0 run midway through the third to give the Spartans their first lead since the score was 19-18 early in the second quarter, and push the team to a five-point lead after three.
“He can score in a variety of ways, and we lean on him hard,” Sellers said of Stephens. “He made some tough plays tonight and came up with some critical rebounds.”
As did West Hall’s William Stroup, who finished with five points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. Dylan Bartlett recorded four blocks for the Spartans, who had 11 rejections in the game. Bartlett also put the game away with less than a minute to go on a shot reminiscent of his game-winner against Gainesville in the Region 7-AAA tournament that gave West Hall the opportunity to play, and the mentality to win, Friday night.
“Those close games in the region tournament taught us to take care of the ball,” Stephens said. “If we turn it over, we can’t win.
“There’s no pushovers in the state tournament.”
The Spartans found that out Friday against Cartersville, which had three players score in double figures.
“We were fortunate to come out of here with a win,” Sellers said.