Randolph Clay’s Gary McCrae celebrates during Monday’s game against Georgia Military College. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
CUTHBERT — All it took was a glance, and Randolph-Clay coach Michael Hoffpauir knew.
He knew his Red Devils weren’t about to see their dreams of a state championship disappear on their home court.
He knew something special was about to happen.
He knew Herald Super 6er Gary McCrae was about to take over the game.
“We’ve been around each other for a while, so I know when it’s his time,” Hoffpauir said. “It was his time.”
McCrae scored 22 of his game-high 25 points in the second half — including 13 in the fourth quarter — to dig No. 2 seed Randolph-Clay out of a huge second-half deficit and advance the Red Devils to the Elite 8 in the Class A state playoffs with a 56-42 victory against No. 15 Georgia Military College.
The comeback started with a look.
“I gave him the look,” McCrae said. “It was some eye-to-eye contact that said ‘give me the ball.’ I gave him the look and the point guards the look, and they know what time it is when I give them the look.”
It was McCrae Time.
“I was determined not to lose,” said McCrae, who was actually coming down with a stomach virus during the game. “I have big goals in my mind. We are trying to win a state championship.”
The Red Devils were about 12 minutes away from waving goodbye to their state-title hopes when Georgia Military jumped ahead 31-17 with 3:45 left in the third quarter. But then the shots started to fall for McCrae and the Red Devils, who scored just 11 points in the first half in one of their worst shooting nights of the season.
The Red Devils chipped GMC’s lead down to nine by the end of the third quarter and then a corner 3-pointer from Kwymente Parker with 5:20 left drew Randolph-Clay to within three points.
Parker’s three — his second of the fourth quarter — made GMC drop out of their zone and into man-to-man defense, and that was all it took for McCrae to put his finishing touches on the comeback.
McCrae scored eight straight points in the next 55 seconds and gave Randolph-Clay a lead it would never lose.
“Once they went man, we knew it would open up the floor for him,” Hoffpauir said. “That’s when we spread it out and really tried to get (McCrae) the ball inside.”
After scoring just 24 points in the first three quarters, Randolph-Clay exploded for 32 in the fourth quarter, outscoring GMC 36-9 in the final nine minutes.
Earlier in the game, Randolph-Clay (23-6) couldn’t find the basket and watched the visiting Bulldogs (15-12), who finished fourth in last week’s Region 7-A tournament, pull ahead for an early lead.
GMC took a 10-8 lead into the second quarter and then held Randolph-Clay scoreless for the first five minutes of the period. The Red Devils only scored three points in the entire third quarter on a Ryan Wiggins layup and a Cornelius Bennett free throw.
Hoffpauir, however, insisted he wasn’t nervous despite his team falling behind by as many as 14 points.
“Early in the game our problem was missing a few little chippies, and that was it,” he said. “A couple of layups here and there, and the score would have been different than what it was showing. I was comfortable where we were, because I knew what we could do in the second half.”
McCrae was the only Red Devils to score in double figures as Cody Brown added seven points and Parker finished with six points.
GMC was paced by Alex Moss’ 13 points, while Bulldog teammates Quatavius Brisco and Dalton Threatt both added eight points.
The Red Devils will host an Elite 8 game Wednesday against either No. 7 Seminole County or No. 10 Hawkinsville, who play in an opening-round game tonight. If it’s Seminole County, it will be a rematch between the rival Red Devils and Indians, who played back on Dec. 10 with Seminole County winning 55-35.
“If they come down here, they are going to have to come with it,” McCrae said. “My team is ready, and they are ready. We are going to go at it, and it’s going to be a good battle.”