When North Gwinnett took possession of the ball with 48 seconds left in overtime, it ate up 38 seconds of clock, A.J. Clements fed the ball to Kam Calhoun and Calhoun’s bucket secured a 70-68 victory that sent the Bulldogs into the state
Wheeler (16-12) still had a chance to win, with 10 seconds remaining after Calhoun’s shot, but Austin Smoak’s 3-point attempt from the top of the key missed its target in the waning seconds.
“I was proud of the effort that they gave,” Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb said. “They didn’t quit fighting. We played a good team (Wednesday). The best team won. I’m proud of my young kids. Everybody battled.”
Region 7AAAAA runner-up North Gwinnett (21-9) will face Milton in Saturday’s quarterfinal-round game at the University of West Georgia.
Both teams put themselves in position to win in the final 3 minutes, and that’s when most of the suspense took place.
For a while, it seemed as if Wheeler would secure momentum when Smoak hit a jumper with 2:34 left, giving the Region 5AAAAA champion a 57-56 lead. The Wildcats then had a chance to extend the lead after a North Gwinnett turnover, but after several missed opportunities, including a dunk attempt, Elijah Staley went 1-of-2 from the free-throw line to put Wheeler ahead by two.
The Wildcats, however, couldn’t hold on to their small lead.
On its next possession, North Gwinnett called timeout with 28 seconds after recovering a loose ball. With the Bulldogs retaining possession, they found an open Tobias Howard, who hit a 3 from the left corner to take the lead back from Wheeler.
Wheeler’s chances started looking bleaker as the clock continued to tick.
Chuck Mitchell’s layup attempt got stuck under the rim on Wheeler’s next scoring attempt, giving the ball back to North Gwinnett. The Wildcats were then forced to foul three times to get into the Bulldogs to the line, and North Gwinnett hit a pair of free throws to boost its lead to four.
Mitchell answered quickly with a layup to get Wheeler within two, and the Wildcats caught a break during the final 10 seconds when North Gwinnett was called for an off-the-ball foul as it was inbounding the ball.
Wheeler’s Jacob Obande then answered with two free throws to tie the score at 61-all and send the game to overtime.
The Wildcats lost some momentum early in the first overtime, though, when Jaylen Brown was called for an offensive foul on a layup attempt.
North Gwinnett then got on a roll and took an early four-point lead, but Wheeler didn’t lag behind for long. Mitchell’s layup put the Wildcats right back into the game before a three-point play by Kejuan Johnson, following a goaltending call, gave them a 66-65 edge.
In attempt to hold on to the lead, Mitchell appeared to have secured a rebound, but North Gwinnett snatched it right back, and the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Georgia Tech signee Chris Bolden, converted a three-point play to reclaim the lead.
Wheeler, though, had a chance to rally back with a minute left to play in the first overtime. After Bolden fouled out, Obande hit another pair of foul shots to tie it at 68-all before Calhoun made his game-winning layup.
“We called a set and our guys executed well,” North Gwinnett coach Zachary Smith said. “A.J. took the ball to the baseline and through the defenders and dumped the ball to Kam for the layup. That was a big time play.”
Eight different players scored for Wheeler, led by Obande’s 13 points and Mitchell’s 12. Smoak, Brown and Staley contributed with eight each, while Mitchell added 10 rebounds.
Bolden scored 30 points to lead North Gwinnett, though he was held to eight by the Wildcats after the first half. Clements was also in double digits with 17.