Senior helps Whitefield keep NCC at bay in quarterfinals
by Zac Diodati
MDJ Sports Correspondent
February 28, 2014 04:00 AM | 2412 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Having already suffered two losses to North Cobb Christian twice this season, Whitefield Academy couldn’t afford a third one, and Eric Lockett made sure it wouldn’t happen. The senior overcame injury again to lead the Wolfpack to a double-overtime win Thursday in the Class A state semifinals.
<br>Special photo by Hal Simpson
Having already suffered two losses to North Cobb Christian twice this season, Whitefield Academy couldn’t afford a third one, and Eric Lockett made sure it wouldn’t happen. The senior overcame injury again to lead the Wolfpack to a double-overtime win Thursday in the Class A state semifinals.
Special photo by Hal Simpson
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MABLETON — In a bruising postseason, Whitefield Academy’s Eric Lockett led his team back to the Class A state semifinals after a thrilling 73-69 victory over archrival North Cobb Christian in double overtime Thursday.

The 6-foot-6 senior, a George Mason signee, sustained a facial laceration during the first overtime session, but he returned in the second extra period to score three important baskets in the final 3 minutes.

“I just wanted to do this for my team,” Lockett said. “All I could think was that I didn’t want to lose this game.”

Whitefield (22-6) didn’t lose the game, and now it will play Calvary Day for a championship game berth Monday night at Kennesaw State.

The Wolfpack are in the semifinals for the fifth straight season under coach Tyrone Johnson. They missed out last season, as Johnson took a one-year sabbatical from coaching.

Lockett came back onto the floor as North Cobb Christian’s Jon Twine went to the free-throw line and gave the Eagles (21-8) a 60-59 lead.

That was the last time Whitefield would trail.

On the ensuing possession, Lockett charged into the paint and sunk a basket while getting fouled, then converted the free throw to put the Wolfpack ahead 62-60.

Moments later, he went under the basket for another layup and a 64-60 lead with 1:52 remaining. Yet again, the Whitefield senior combined with teammate Jessie Byrd on back-to-back scoring plays to give the Wolfpack a 68-62 lead.

“You saw two teams tonight that wanted to be in the final four,” Johnson said. “North Cobb Christian wanted it just as bad as we did. It didn’t come down to cerebral play, it came down to grit. Eric got hurt in the first round, and our trainers did a great job. It went from not knowing if he would play anymore this season, to us maybe being able to use him some in this game, to him making crucial plays to win the game.”

North Cobb Christian certainly had chances to come away with the road victory. At the end of regulation, coach Greg Matta called timeout with 12.8 seconds left to diagram a winning play. Hunter Ware and Trey Kalina both missed on close-range shots, and the game headed to overtime at 48-all.

Foul trouble became an issue in the first overtime period, and North Cobb Christian finished the game missing three fouled-out starters. With less than a minute remaining in the first overtime, the Eagles led 58-54, but Whitefield found the basket to bring the game within two points, and after forcing a steal on the resulting inbound play, Byrd sunk a layup to tie the game at 58 apiece with less than 10 seconds to go.

“It was two great basketball teams battling,” Matta said. “We didn’t take care of the ball. We gave away the ball game. Missing those players that fouled out killed us in rebounding. I’ll be honest, though, we committed 20 turnovers and went 18-for-34 from the free-throw line. You’re not going to win a ballgame doing that.”

Free throws, of course, are an integral part of any game that goes to overtime, and it was another department where Whitefield’s star had time to shine. Lockett went 8-for-10, and shot 53 percent from the field to finish with a game-high 22 points.

It was the fourth meeting of the season between the Region 6A rivals, North Cobb Christian winning in the semifinals of the region tournament two weeks ago.

A powerhouse in the Georgia Independent School Association, North Cobb Christian has yet to make it as far as the semifinals since joining the Georgia High School Association five years ago.

Ware scored a game-high 29 points. The Bryant signee is one of three Division I-bound seniors the Eagles will be losing, along with Stephon Jelks (Mercer) and Kendall Crute (Ohio).
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