Albany High’s Tim Pierce, right, and Tyrone Culbreth ended their season Saturday with a 63-49 loss to Vidalia after the game started with a controversial technical foul on AHS. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SAVANNAH — This was ugly — ugly in every imaginable way, from the uniforms Albany High was forced to wear to the way the Indians’ remarkable season came to an end.
It ended the best regular-season in Albany High history on a rain-filled night in Savannah, where Vidalia and Devin Atkins took everything away that Albany’s kids had worked so hard for all year.
They took everything but their shirts.
They didn’t have to — the officials grabbed those before the game started.
It was that kind of night for Albany.
In the end, it was Vidalia 63, Albany High 49 as Vidalia pulled off a comeback for the ages in the Elite 8 round of the Class AA state playoffs, stopping Albany High just short of the Final Four.
“It’s painful,’’ said Albany High coach Archie Chatmon, whose team had the best regular-season record in the school’s history. “It’s painful for me and painful for those seniors. It was a magical run. You hate to see it end.”
The Indians (25-3) led after the first, 11-10, and were up, 22-13, at halftime, and it appeared they were on their way to Macon and their first Final Four appearance since the early 1990s when they jumped out to a 28-19 lead midway in the third quarter.
But that’s when Atkins started heating up. Vidalia closed to 30-26 when Atkins hit his first 3 of the night with 1:30 left in the third, and when he connected on three consecutive free throws at the 1:17 mark, Vidalia had closed the gap to 32-29.
That’s when the run really began — the run that ended Albany’s season.
Vidalia forced four consecutive turnovers and finished the quarter with a 10-0 run to lead 36-32, and just kept coming, scoring five fast points to open the fourth to take a 41-32 lead with 6:00 left.
Atkins fueled the comeback, scoring 12 points on three 3-pointers and his three free throws he was awarded when he was fouled beyond the arc. He scored 15 points in the third quarter, and 15 more in the fourth, finishing the game with five 3s that killed Albany High.
He did all that after scoring just one point in the first half. He scored that point on a free throw before Albany ever took the court.
The Indians were shocked, stunned and a bit bewildered when they were hit with a technical foul before the game began in a bizarre call that defies logic or wisdom. Albany was hit with a tech for bringing the wrong uniforms. The Indians wore their white home uniforms because the GHSA bracket clearly stated the team at the top of the bracket is the home team.
But when the Indians arrived at Savannah State they were told the bracket had been changed and Vidalia would be the home team. The Indians had to wear their orange warm-up tops so Vidalia could wear white. Vidalia started the game with two technical free throws and the ball, and took a 1-0 lead after hitting one of two.
By the end of the first quarter, Albany had taken a 11-10 lead and the Indians went to halftime with a 22-13 cushion, holding Vidalia to just one basket from the floor in the second quarter after a drive by Cole Johnson, who knocked Larry Sanford to the floor on the play.
The image no one in Albany will forget is the sight of Albany’s Tim Pierce getting hammered on a drive to the basket and crumpled on the floor in pain during Vidalia’s 15-0 run that turned the game around.
Pierce was clearly in pain, but there was no call as Vidalia raced to a fast-break basket to the delight of a large crowd at Savannah State, which is 90 miles from Vidalia.
Atkins’ second-half heroics ignited his team and the crowd, and Albany could never get closer than eight points — 55-47 — the rest of the way as Vidalia (26-3) poured in points on fast breaks and the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Vidalia shot 18 free throws — in the fourth quarter alone.
The Indians got another big game from Pierce, who led the way with 16 points, and Kenny Anderson and Larry Sanford had their moments. Anderson had 13 points, nine rebounds and five steals, and Sanford added 11 points on the night. But it wasn’t enough — not against Atkins, who missed only two shots in the second half while pouring in 15 points in the third and another 15 in the fourth.
“(Atkins) is a player,’’ Chatmon said. ‘‘We contained him for a half, but once he hit that first 3 he started feeling good and that was it. And we didn’t take care of the ball in the third quarter, and that was the difference in the game.’’
The Indians also had a tough night swapping players inside as Chatmon used a variety of combinations because Tyrone Culbreth, Albany’s 6-4 post, got into foul trouble early and fouled out with 3:29 left in the fourth.
It was a long night for many reasons.
This had been a season of celebration at Albany High, where the Indians lost only two games — both in the final seconds — and brought a 15-game winning streak into the Elite 8. They did everything right all season and did everything right until late in the third quarter when the momentum, the game and the season all seemed to slide away from them.
“I really feel bad for the seniors,’’ Chatmon said. “We had such a special season, and it was a great run, a magical run. It’s going to take a while for them to realize just how special it was.’’