MACON -- Deerfield-Windsor was put to a true test for arguably just the second time all year Saturday in a 72-64 win against Mount de Sales in the GISA Class AAA state quarterfinals.
And that's OK, said Knights coach Gordy Gruhl, who has now led the Knights to five straight Final Fours.
"It's not supposed to be easy when you get this far," said the longtime DWS boys coach, whose team will now play Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Milledgeville against George Walton -- the same program which beat the Knights in this year's state football championships in December. "It's shaping up to be a bit of a rivalry -- at least this year."
Deerfield's Michael Matthews dropped a team-high 22 points in the win -- including 14 in the second quarter alone that featured three 3-pointers -- followed by Banks Kinslow (19), Reggie Brown (14) and Shaun Jones (11).
But the Knights, who were the only Southwest Georgia private school to survive on quarterfinal Saturday -- Sherwood fell in Class AA, and Westwood and Terrell Academy both saw their seasons end in the Class A tourney -- certainly had their hands full with Mount de Sales big man John Rhyne, who torched DWS for 30 points, but fouled out down the stretch.
Mount de Sales pushed Deerfield-Windsor to the end, but it was the Knights' free-throw shooting that sealed it.
Mount de Sales trailed, 65-64, with a minute remaining as the Knights made 7-of-8 free throws in the final 50 seconds, including four by Brown.
"They did not surprise me one bit," Deerfield-Windsor head coach Gordy Gruhl said of Mount de Sales' effort. "Before I saw the bracket, I was hoping that we wouldn't have to see them at all until the finals, but sure enough we got them in the second round. I knew that they were a very athletic and very well-coached team who could give us problems.
"I don't think we played our best game, but you have to find a way to win a game somewhere in the playoffs, and that is exactly what we did (Saturday). Mount de Sales gave us a great challenge, but our kids answered that challenge."
DWS led, 38-28, at one point in the second half, then stretched the lead to 18 at 55-37 as it looked like the game would end in a blowout.
But after a timeout by Mount de Sales coach Scott Wynn, the Cavaliers came alive. They outscored Deerfield-Windsor, 27-8, in the next 11 minutes, with Rhyne scoring 21 of those points.
But that was as close as Mount de Sales would get as big shots by Kinslow, Jones and Matthews down the stretch sealed the win.
Now, the focus becomes GW (24-2), which has lost just two games all season, while DWS (27-1) has lost just once.
"This is a team that's big, strong and has been the No. 1 or No. 2 team in our class all year. They're going to be a load," said Gruhl, whose squad will likely be without the services of Ramello Carter, who hasn't played at all in this year's state tournament because of a knee injury. "We've got guys who have stepped up, but it's tough on everyone to try and (fill that void)."
The Macon Telegraph contributed to the report.