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Basketball: Central boys top South in dramatic final seconds for first region win
Joakeim Celestin
Forsyth Central's Joakeim Celestin leaps up for a shot with South Forsyth's Ethan Underwood contesting it on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. Photo courtesy Jay Rooney Photography.

Brandon Hutchins couldn’t help but bury his hands in his face.

He wasn’t in a situation that normally called for that reaction — his Forsyth Central Bulldogs had just captured a two-point lead with just seconds remaining Friday against South Forsyth. Moments before, though, Hutchins’ team, starving for its first region win in his tenure as head coach, was in celebration mode after Namiah Howard hit an easy layup for the lead.

The final buzzer had sounded and the Bulldogs stormed the court, but as it turned out, the War Eagles had called timeout with a paltry 1.2 seconds left on the clock.

It wasn’t over yet. For Hutchins, it never seemed to be.

“We've been so snakebit this year,” he said. “We’ve had so many 7A games that we've been in right at the end; one possession there, two possessions there, and it hadn't gone our way. As a coach, you just started kind of getting that feeling in your stomach, like, ‘What could go wrong here?’”

But Central’s fortunes took a different turn this time. On South’s last-ditch, full-court inbound pass, Howard leaped into the air and intercepted the ball, finally sealing a 55-53 victory that was a long time coming for the Bulldogs, who improved to 8-11 overall and 1-3 in Region 5-7A play. South fell to 12-7 overall and 2-2 in the region with the loss.

“It's what we've been telling them, that they have to believe that they can win,” Hutchins said. “You go on the road and you play a really, really good South Forsyth team who's very well coached, and to walk out of this gym with a win is incredible. My assistant coach, Tim Dierks, did an amazing job with the game plan on how to slow these guys down, so he gets a lot of the credit for that. They executed and they found a way to win.”

Central was down six entering the fourth quarter, but after a run fueled by made shots from Dylan Carter and Brandon Sherer, the Bulldogs took a three-point lead before South sophomore Ethan Underwood tied the game at 50-50 with 3:23 to play.

The War Eagles took a one-point lead on a made free throw, and with under a minute to play, Joakeim Celestin corralled a South turnover, almost losing the ball himself along the sideline with the War Eagles’ Kohl Harris pressuring him. Celestin was able to dump the ball off to Howard, who was wide open underneath the basket for the game-winning shot.

“I saw Joakeim's possession happen and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, he's just about to get rid of it.’ The other guy ran up on him the whole time and in my head I'm like, ‘Please don't turn it over again.’ When he let it go, it was a sigh of relief. It was just me and the basket.

“I was so surprised. I'm running back and it was open. I wasn't expecting it to be as open as it was. For that to happen, something finally went our way.”

For South, that play was another example of mistake-filled basketball that the War Eagles want to get cleaned up.

“We're just in a funk,” South coach Scott Givens said. “It's not just one thing. You've got to give them credit: they made more plays than we did.

“Us and Central have played a lot of close games since I've been here. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes generally wins. We made more mistakes, and we came up short.”

South Forsyth's Devin McGlockton attempts a shot with Forsyth Central's Brandon Sherer and Namiah Howard defending him on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. Photo courtesy Jay Rooney Photography.

Devin McGlockton played very well for South, though, leading all scorers with 23 points. He gave the War Eagles momentum at the end of the third with a slick no-look pass to Thomas Stocks, who then made a corner three to make it 41-39. McGlockton also ended the third quarter with a dunk, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.

Sherer and Carter finished with 17 and 13 points for Central, respectively, while Underwood netted 11 for South. Howard’s game-winning shot was his only made field goal of the night.

“We've had games like this all year and we haven't been able to close, so this is kind of a big statement for us to be able to finally close a game and actually do what we need to do,” Howard said. “Hopefully we can keep it going.”