Hours after the St. Francis Lady Knights punched their ticket to the Class A-Private School state championship game in Macon, their male counterparts matched them -- holding off a late surge from Aquinas to win 61-56 in the state semifinals at Kennesaw State.
“Two really good teams and two teams that left it all on the floor,” said St. Francis (24-8 overall) head coach Cabral Huff after the win. “I’m so proud of my guys because we just kept fighting the whole way and even when we weren’t executing on offense, we fought on the defensive end, fought for rebounds and hung on.”
After racing out to 13 point lead in the first quarter and 31-23 margin at halftime, Aquinas (23-7) and star shooting guard Ahmed Hill made a second half charge.
The 6-foot-4 junior dropped 12 of his game-high 28 points in the third period cutting the lead to two points just four minutes into the half.
But while Hill was heating up, freshman point guard Kobi Simmons was matching him shot for shot, scoring 11 points (including a critical four-point play) to keep the Knights ahead by five (48-43) heading into the fourth.
“Excentric, electrive, whatever you want to say, he was all of the above tonight,” said Huff of his freshman point man’s play. “I’ve never had a freshman like that where you always want the ball in his hands when it matters most.
“When [Hill] started getting going it rattled some of our guys, but Kobi hit big shots and made some great plays to settle everyone down.”
A Nathan Waller bucket to open the fourth quarter gave St. Francis a 50-43 lead but Hill rattled off five straight points and a layup from point guard Mike Scott knotted the game at 50 -- the first tie since the contest tipped off at 0-0.
A McKinley Brown free throw followed by a baseline jumped from Simmons moved the Knights back up three. Two points for Scott brought the lead back to one before Malik Beasley pushed it back to three points with a put-back seconds later.
With 3:15 to play Hill connected on his fourth three-pointer of the game to knot the score back up at 55.
From there though it was all defense and free throws for St. Francis.
Kaiser Gates knocked down a pair to move the score to 57-55 and after one freebie for Scott made things 57-56, the Irish wouldn’t score for the final 2:40 seconds of the game.
Jordan Jones’ two free throws with 1:31 to play gave St. Francis a 59-56 lead and Aquinas misfired on five three pointers in the next minute that would have tied the game. Jones iced the game and a 61-56 final with two free throws with 1.8 seconds to play.
Jones, the Knights lone senior, finished the night with eight points. Simmons scored 19 and Beasley led St. Francis with 20 points -- scoring 15 in the first half.
Scott added 20 for Aquinas.
The Knights, who were seeded No. 2 in the 16-team tournament, will play fourth-seed Athens Christian (24-4) or No. 1 Greenforest Christian (25-4) in the state championship game.
“It’s been a building process to get here and it feels good,” said Huff of an impending state championship game. “But we still have one more step to go.”