Terrell County's magical and emotional run through the Class A state playoffs ended Wednesday.
It took the defending state champs, overtime and the loss of most of Terrell County's starting lineup to finally put an end to a season they will never forget in Dawson; a season that saw the Greenwave pull off one inspiring upset after another.
Whitefield Academy (28-3) will defend its GHSA Class A state title Saturday after beating Terrell County, 72-68, in overtime at the Macon Centreplex in the state semifinals. It was a physical game that didn't end until four of Terrell County's starters had fouled out and another player, DeKoven Ware, was on the bench with a swollen eye and cuts that will require stitches.
"It hurts, hurts a lot,'' Greenwave guard Terel Hall said. "We worked so hard to get here.''
Terrell County fans were upset because there was not a foul called on the play that knocked Ware, who finished with eight points, out of the game with 7:43 left in regulation.
And it ended with a bit of controversy over a non-call in the final seconds of regulation when Terrell County's Alre'k Brown was hammered while driving for an uncontested basket. Brown hit both free throws to lift Terrell County to a 59-58 lead, but shock filled the air after an intentional foul was not called on the play, which would have given the ball back to Terrell County with 55 seconds left.
"I asked the official about the intentional foul,'' Terrell County coach John Davis said. "He said it was not intentional because the Whitefield player was going for the ball. That was his argument. I said I thought it was intentional and that we should have the ball.''
It was that kind of night for Terrell County, which watched Whitefield's Kennard Backman (21 points) send the game into OT at 59-59 by hitting one of two free throws with 29 seconds left. The Greenwave had a chance to win in regulation, but turned the ball over on a errant pass with eight seconds remaining.
By the time the game was over, four starters -- Hall, Brown, Brian Browner and Markez Dotson -- had all fouled out. Hall, who played a courageous game, limping on a twisted leg for three quarters, was the biggest loss. He fouled out with 1:04 left in regulation.
"I knew we were in trouble in overtime without him, because he's our point guard,'' Davis said. "Without Terel, I knew we would struggle in overtime. That made a big difference. He played such a great game for us. I knew he wasn't 100 percent, but he played through it.''
Hall was driving for a uncontested layup when he was fouled and hit the floor in the opening moment of the second quarter. He limped off the court, but came back 30 seconds later.
"I can barely walk,'' Hall said through tears afterward. "I just had to stay in the game. I couldn't let my teammates down. I was in pain, but I had to stay in there.''
Even on one leg, Hall was still able to run the offense, and finished with 12 assists in a Willis Reed-type performance. But after scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds in the first quarter, Hall was limited to six more points and did not get a rebound on his bad leg. His ability to break Whitefield's pressure and Brown's inside presence led to Terrell County's second-half comeback.
"I told them at halftime we had to go to Alre'k,'' Davis said. "Because they had no answer for him. He always plays big, and he was big (Wednesday).''
The Greenwave (24-6) trailed by as many as nine in the first half, but Brown took over immediately by blocking Whitefield's first two shots in the second half. He had seven second-half blocks to finish with nine for the game, and finished with 21 points before fouling out in the final minute of overtime.
"I knew I had to step up, and when we got the lead, I thought we were going to pull it out,'' Brown said.
Hall had a pretty assist to Charles Brown and then scored the final four points of the third quarter to close the gap to 44-42, and Terrell County took its first lead of the game when Browner hit the only 3-pointer in regulation to lift the Greenwave to a 51-49 edge with 2:43 left. Terrell was still up, 55-54, before Backman hit three of four free throws on consecutive trips, to give Whitefield a
57-55 lead with 2:17 left.
The Greenwave took its final lead -- 59-58 -- on Brown's free throws with 55 seconds. The Greenwave shot only four free throws over the final two quarters and OT. As for Whitefield? It shot 25 free throws over the same stretch, and took 35 free throws to Terrell County's 14 for the game.
"That's a big difference,'' Davis lamented.
Browner (9 points) and Dotson (7 points) both fouled out in OT, and with Ware already out with an injury, Davis had to reach deep into his bench. Junior Jevonte Peters, sophomore Corderious Grier and freshman Rakeem Spencer, who had all seen limited playing time this season, were the players on the court at the end.
Alre'k Brown scored his final points to close the gap to 64-63 with 50 seconds left in OT, but two turnovers helped Whitefield to a 5-0 run and a 69-63 lead. Grier hit a 3-pointer to close to 70-68 with six seconds left before Chris Lovelace buried two of Whitefield's seven free throws in OT to seal the win.
"I feel empty,'' Dotson said of the loss. "It was hard to watch (from the bench after fouling out). I regret so much getting that fifth foul. I just feel so bad right now.''
It was such an emotional run to the Final Four for the Greenwave, who knocked off fifth-ranked Greenville and No. 1 ranked Wilkinson County just to get here. They were underdogs in every game, and joked about using a big slingshot to knock off the Goliaths.
"I am so proud of my kids,'' Davis said. "They played with passion and heart all year, and they played that way (Wednesday). They gave me everything. I enjoyed the ride. You just hate to see it end.''