Terrell Academy girls coach Keith Jones and his girls lost Saturday in the GISA Class AA State Championship game to Gatewood, which ended the season 30-0 with its last loss coming to TAE in last year's title game.
MILLEDGEVILLE — Terrell Academy girls basketball coach Keith Jones said his team played “28 great minutes” in Saturday’s GISA Class AA State Championship game against Gatewood.
It was those final four minutes that cost the Lady Eagles a record fourth straight state title.
Gatewood’s Khady Dieng scored 17 of her game-high 21 points in the second half to lead the Lady Gators to a 53-40 win against a Terrell Academy team that knocked off Gatewood in last year’s state title game with a Maura Milliron buzzer beater, which was the last time the Lady Gators had lost.
“It wasn’t about revenge,” Gatewood coach Melanie Walls said. “We are really similar teams, with similar talent. So we knew it would come down to who made the plays late in the game.”
Gatewood (30-0) made most of those plays.
The Lady Gators outscored Terrell, 19-4, in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter. The Lady Eagles, who led by as many as four points in the final period, managed just one field goal during that span, and it didn’t come until midway through the fourth quarter.
But still, Jones was proud of his team, which finished with a 25-4 record and had an 18-game winning streak snapped Saturday.
“I won’t go home and lose any sleep over this because I know these girls played as hard as they possibly could,” Jones said. “When the kids do that for you, you aren’t going to complain.”
Dieng, a junior exchange student from Dakar, Senegal in West Africa, took over late in the game with aggressive play. All five of her field goals in the second half came in the paint, either off drives to the hoop or on dishes from her teammates. She made five free throws in the fourth quarter as well.
“She is a special player, and she can be a difference maker,” Walls said. “She’s only a junior, so we have her for another year.”
Alex Barfield led Terrell Academy with 13 points, while Marilauren Farr chipped in 10 points. Barfield was the only senior on the youthful Lady Eagles’ squad.
“She is just such a special kid,” Jones said off Barfield. “Obviously we are going to miss her. Alex is just one of the best all-around players I have ever had the opportunity to coach or watch play. I will definitely miss her.”
Neither team gained much of an advantage on the scoreboard until the fourth quarter. The biggest lead over the first 24 minutes was five points by Gatewood late in the first quarter. Terrell led by four late in the third quarter, but the Lady Gators’ fourth-quarter run pushed them up by five points less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.
After Terrell cut Gatewood’s lead to four at 42-38, Gatewood went on an 11-0 run that lasted until the Lady Eagles made a basket in the waning seconds of the game.
Walls said she was proud of the adversity of her team battled through this year.
One of the Lady Gators’ top players — Savannah Douglass — tore her ACL in a preseason game against Stratford. Walls sent a heavily-braced Douglass into the game Saturday in the final seconds to get on the court with her team in the title game.
“I just didn’t want her to get hurt,” Walls said. “They passed her the ball, and I’m thinking, ‘No, no, no.’ It worked out great.”
Jonathan Heeter of the Macon Telegraph and John Millikan of The Albany Herald contributed to this report