ALBANY -- Thunder.
That's what it was, in sound and in deed. The kind of thunder they could hear all the way back in Atlanta.
That's the way the U-Save-It Classic ended late Tuesday night -- with a thunder dunk that said everything and more about the final game, a classic (no pun intended) showdown between Westover and North Clayton.
The dunk, the game and the night all belonged to Marcus Hunt, whose slam at the buzzer gave him 40 points for the night and sealed up the U-Save-It MVP award for the Classic.
And yes, it capped North Clayton's 65-53 win against Westover, the No. 3 ranked team in The Herald.
Leading up to Tuesday, North Clayton, a Class AAAA team from Atlanta, had lost four games by a total of eight points.
That included a 35-32 loss to Monroe on Monday night in the U-Save-It, but Hunt simply wouldn't let the Eagles lose.
He owed it to his coach, Martisse Troup, who is an Albany native.
"My coach is from here and all I heard about in practice all week was Monroe and Westover,'' said Hunt, who scored 23 of his 40 in the second half when North Clayton took control of a see-saw game after storming back from a nine-point deficit. "I was just feeling it. I had to play a good game because my coach is from (Albany).''
It was no secret Hunt was the man to stop. After he scored 17 in the first half, Westover coach Dallis Smith told his kids what they had to do.
"Coming out of halftime, we were going to trap him in the second half and get the ball out of his hands,'' smith said. 'We didn't do it. He was free on the court.''
Hunt hit 8-of-8 free throws, which wouldn't be a significant statistic if not for Westover's cold night at the line, where the Patriots made just 12 of 28 free throws.
"Free throws win games, and we didn't make our free throws,'' said Dequan Green, who led Westover with 22 points.''
Herald Super 6er Malcolm Sapp, who was averaging 22 points in the first two games of the U-Save-It, had a tough night from the floor and finished with eight points. But it looked like Sapp was going ignite the Patriots when -- after going 2 for 6 from the field in the first half -- he opened the second half with a 3-pointer to lift Westover to a 33-31 lead.
Brandon Hudson, who has worked himself into a starting role of late, hit a baseline drive to make it 35-31, and the Green hit a drive then came right back with a long 3-pointer to lift Westover to a 40-31 lead.
Then came Hunt and the Eagles, who finished the quarter with a 14-2 run, including a trey by Hunt at the buzzer to lift North Clayton (5-4) to a 45-42 lead.
Westover (7-4) never led again.
"We had a nine-point lead get away,'' Smith said. "That's not Westover basketball. It looked like we just gave up. We don't do that.''
It's been a rough start for the Patriots, who were in the Final Four last year and the state title game two years ago. They not only lost four starters, but key members from the second team, and started the season looking for an identity. It's been especially tough because of Westover's tradition and reputation.
"I knew (Hunt) be on (Tuesday night),'' Smith said. "Everybody brings their best game when they play Westover.''
The Patriots kept things close and trailed 52-50 when Joseph Harrell hit a pair of free throws with 4:13 left, but Hunt answered with a 3-pointer nine of the Eagles' next 10 points to make it a 60-53 game with 1:25 left, and Westover failed to score in the final minutes, missing three shots and a pair of free throws.
Harrell had a solid night with 12 rebounds, three blocks and nine points, but there was little solace for Westover.
"I don't know,'' said Green, looking for an answer to how the game got away from the Patriots. "We just lost our intensity for a little bit (in the second half). and we didn't make our free throws.''
ALL TOURNAMENT TEAM:
Sapp was named to the All-Classic team along with Monroe's Rantavious Gilbert, Dougherty's McArthur Gaines, Albany High's Larry Sanford and Statesboro's Jaquan Raymond, who had a 30-point game and a 34-point game before he was held to 14 points on Tuesday as Monroe held Statesboro to 22 points and only four points in the second half. Monroe also held Hunt to 14 points in a 35-32 win against North Clayton on Monday night.