Whitefield Academy put itself in position to beat St. Francis for a third time this season, this time for the Class A private-school state championship, but it couldn’t play with a lead the entire second half.
The lead slipped away with less than 3 minutes to play in the game, and the Wolfpack were denied a fourth state title with a 65-60 loss Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.
St. Francis (24-7), which was swept by Whitefield (23-7) in Region 6A play, claimed its first state title after settling as runner-up to Greenforest Christian a year ago.
Trailing by three points with 20 seconds remaining in the game, Whitefield had two open looks at a potential game-tying 3-pointer. Isaiah Hart took one shot at the top of the key that bounced off the front of the rim. Following an offensive rebound, Berto Dryden fired from the left corner, and his attempt also hit the rim.
The Wolfpack were forced to foul afterwards, and Kaiser Gates sealed the win and the championship with two free throws.
Whitefield got into foul trouble in the second half and some missed routine shots after taking a 35-26 lead at the break. But the game came down to offensive rebounds.
St. Francis ended up with 20 to Whitefield’s nine, and many of those offensive boards resulted in points. The Knights also outrebounded the Wolfpack 9-3 on the offensive glass in the second half.
“I told them we did a lot of things well this season, which put us in position to win this game, but the one thing that plagued us all year was the reason why we lost,” Whitefield coach Tyrone Johnson said. “They had (20) chances to shoot again, again and again. If we would have held them to one shot, we would have won easy.”
Struggling on the offensive boards also resulted in foul trouble. Whitefield committed six fouls in the opening 2 minutes of the second half, and leading scorer Eric Lockett already had his fourth at the 6:42 mark.
Lockett missed the bulk of the third quarter and fouled out early in the fourth.
“It was hard,” said Lockett, a George Mason signee who settled for only three points in his final game in a Whitefield uniform, “but I had to suck it up and cheer my team on.”
Courtney Alexander led Whitefield with 17 points and seven rebounds, while Dryden scored 16.
The Knights climbed back into the game early in the third quarter on a pair of 3-pointers by Kobi Simmons and Malik Beasley, who finished with 20 and 22 points, respectively.
St. Francis kept threatening in the third, but Whitefield made key shots to hold them off. Consecutive layups by Jesse Byrd and Dryden put the Wolfpack back in front by five after St. Francis had cut the lead to one.
A Dryden layup with 1 minute left in the third put the Wolfpack ahead 47-41, and that was the biggest lead they would build.
Byrd and Lawrence Waters had four fouls going into the fourth quarter, with Dryden at three.
Tempers were also heated throughout the game, with technical fouls called against St. Francis’ McKinley Brown and Whitefield’s Lockett and Byrd.
“We had lots of fouls (in the second half),” Johnson said, “but that was because we were giving up second shots — and third and fourth shots.”