The stage is set for the showdown Georgia high school basketball fans have long awaited. With easy wins for each in last night's semifinal action, Norcross and Wheeler set out to do battle in tonight's Class AAAAA championship game at the Gwinnett Arena, in what could be one for the ages.
Norcross picked an opportune time to play one of its best games of the season, walloping Savannah 79-46 behind a balanced attacked led by Denzail Jones, who led all scorers with 19. Al-Farouq Aminu chipped in with 17. The game was never competitive as Norcross piled up the points early and used its size advantage to keep Savannah at bay. Savannah came in averaging 74 points a game while Norcross was only giving up 44-good for the lowest in AAAAA. The Blue Jackets, whose tallest player is 6'4, could not contend with the presence of 6'7 forward A.J. Hawkins, who added 14 points, and Aminu down low.
Though not quite as dominant, Wheeler fought off the upset efforts of Hiram to win 68-54. The Wildcats used a 21-2 second quarter run to distance themselves from the feisty Hornets. The star of the game for Wheeler was junior Richard Howell who scored a game-high 22 points and pulled down a career-high 22 rebounds to send Wheeler to the championship game.
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The last time Wheeler and Norcross faced off, Norcross escaped with a one-point victory in the first round of last year's state tournament. Norcross went on to win the title, its second straight. A win for the Blue Devils tonight will put them in pretty lofty company in the ranks of Georgia high school basketball. No team in Georgia's largest classification has won three titles in a row since Lanier accomplished the feat from 1938-40.
Wheeler knows a thing or four about capturing titles as the Wildcats have won four in head coach Doug Lipscomb's 15 seasons at the helm. Between the two powerhouse programs, five of the past six AAAAA trophies are housed at the two schools. The teams faced in the 2005 title game with Wheeler coming away from victorious.
Norcross enters as the higher ranked team nationally, checking in at number six in the USA Today's rankings and eighth in the Rivals.com Fab 50 rankings. Wheeler comes in ranked 15th and tenth, respectively.
Want to see future college stars, or perhaps even NBA players? This is the game for you. Upward of ten future Division I players will be in action tonight, headlined by Norcross' McDonald's All-American Aminu, who's headed to Wake Forest and Wheeler's Dequan Jones, who's Miami-bound. Top 2009 talent includes Norcross' Taariq Muhammad, Denzail Jones and Ariel Jones and Wheeler's Tahj Tate, Ari Stewart and Howell.
Tip-off is scheduled for 8:45 p.m. at the Gwinnett Arena.