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State Championship Saturday: Part 1 -- Deerfield's redemption

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

MILLEDGEVILLE -- Yep. They got it done.

After two previous years of misery at the Centennial Center, Deerfield-Windsor broke the hex in the GISA Class AAA title game Saturday with a 56-41 win against Tattnall Square Academy.

The Knights' request of "Let's get it done" before the season after falling in the state title game two straight years came to fruition against a Trojans team Deerfield had beaten by 26 and 30 points during the regular season.

"It just shows that hard work pays off," said Knights head coach Gordy Gruhl, who won his sixth state title at Deerfield (four as the boys coach, two as girls). "(Saturday) we got paid for all that hard work."

Senior Michael Matthews, one of six Knights' seniors playing their final game, poured in a game-high 23 points, hitting 4-of-10 from 3-point range. After tasting defeat in Milledgeville the previous two years, Matthews had grown to dislike the GC&SU arena.

"It's a fun place to play, but I didn't like it very much," Matthews said. "I like it a lot now. I think I love it."

Matthews and all the Knights were wearing newly printed "We Got It Done" T-shirts, signifying the first DWS basketball title since 2003, amid a swarm of Knights' fans at midcourt after the win.

"We finally got it done," Matthews said as he soaked in congratulations from fans.

Tattnall's DeAndre Smelter was held to just 3-of-12 shooting from the floor and finished with 10 points after scoring 21 in the semifinals against Mount Vernon.

"I slowed (Smelter) down myself playing him at point guard," Trojans coach Paul Brooks said. "I knew we had to in order to handle (Deerfield's) pressure. He's better inside, but with him playing guard we had a chance."

Knights senior Duane Anderson, with some help from Reggie Brown, was saddled with guarding the explosive Trojans senior most of the night.

"We wanted to step up to the challenge," Anderson said. "If you're a good player, you don't get afraid. I was excited about (defending Smelter)."

Deerfield (28-1) led by as many as 11 in the second half before Tattnall (21-7) cut the lead to 34-30 at the end of the third quarter. Matthews, who started 0-for-5 from 3-point land, hit two straight to kick the Knights' advantage back to 10 points with less than two minutes to play.

"At halftime coach told me to keep shooting," Matthews said. "My teammates had confidence in me and so I kept shooting and was able to make some."

Gruhl may have been the most relieved, winning one for a group of seniors who had gone through so much.

"I don't think I've ever, as a coach, felt more pressure than I did this year to win for them," he said. "They're very deserving of this state championship."

Matthews and junior Banks Kinslow, who finished with 10 points, warmed up after a slow start from long range, as Deerfield connected on 7-of-21 3s. The Knights made 6-of-11 after halftime and pulled away late.

The Knights led, 25-17, at the break after Matthews cranked it up from 3-point land, hitting two in a row after missing his first five. Kinslow followed with his first trey and then sank two free throws right before intermission to help Deerfield finish the first half on a 14-2 run.

Deerfield's Brown was held to just one point in the opening half, while Tattnall's Smelter went scoreless (0-3 from the field) in the first half. Brown finished with three points, and was part of a senior group that ended their careers with a win.

"They've been great leaders," Gruhl said of the senior class. "They set a great example for Deerfield basketball for years to come."