JOHNS CREEK — If Jake Morris doesn’t suffer an ankle injury with 1:45 to play, perhaps Artese Gatlin isn’t in Friday’s Region 6-AAAAAA semifinal game.
If Gatlin’s dad hadn’t pushed him all summer to extend his shooting range, maybe the final shot clangs harmlessly off the rim.
The offseason work paid off. Gatlin’s corner three-pointer with 16 seconds left off a drive-and-kick from sophomore Andrew Melms gave Lambert a 40-39 lead, and Ross Morkem blocked a Centennial shot attempt at the other end (VIDEO) with two ticks to go to propel the Longhorns to Saturday’s region championship game at 7 p.m. against top-seeded Alpharetta.
“Last year, I couldn’t shoot to save my life, but this year I’m comfortable shooting that,” Gatlin said. “I had no hesitation, and as soon as I shot it, I knew it was going in.”
Gatlin had checked in for Morris when the senior point guard, who helped the Longhorns handle tight Centennial defense all night, was fouled and went down in a heap and had to be helped off.
The Knights then took what was their only lead of the second half with 44 seconds remaining on an Adam Saeed (11 points) layup.
Lambert took more than 20 seconds off the clock before Melms drove to his left and drew help defense from Centennial’s Paul Bryant. Gatlin floated to the corner, away from Bryant, and Melms found him there. Bryant had too much space to close down, and Gatlin’s shot drew a touch of the back iron but fell through.
The Longhorns had four fouls to give and used three of them, taking 11.1 seconds off the clock. Centennial inbounded on the left wing to Saeed, who drove to his left, but Morkem blocked his leaner; Jashon Taylor collected the loose ball, but his desperation three-pointer missed everything.
“Artese has been doing that all year,” Lambert coach Scott Bracco said. “He’s a sharpshooter now and he plays with so much enthusiasm. I’m glad he had his day — he deserves it.”
Ross Morkem led the Longhorns with 15 points, eight in the third quarter as Lambert built a slim three-point lead. Patrick Noble had nine points, all in the first half.
Morkem and Connor Mannion made life tough in the paint for Centennial, who tried to slow Friday’s contest to a crawl.
“They pretty much dictated the tempo,” Bracco said. “They were happy with a ball-control offense, but it goes to show we can play and win with pretty much any style.”
Games like Friday’s, where the largest lead for either team was eight—Lambert scored the first eight points—usually come down to who can make a play last. The Longhorns hadn’t made a three-pointer for 31 minutes, 44 seconds, until Gatlin’s shot fell through.
“They made the basket to give them the lead, but what I think everyone else was looking for was the tie,” Gatlin said. “I thought for a second to take it in for a layup, but I have enough confidence in my shot where there wasn’t any question I was shooting it.”
Lambert boys 40, Centennial 39
Centennial 9 13 7 10_39
Lambert 12 8 12 8_40
Centennial: Saeed 11; Dirton 7; White 6; Taylor 5; Brown 4; Smith 2; Thompson 2; Carey 2.
Lambert: Morkem 15; Noble 9; Morris 5; Lancaster 4; Gatlin 3; Melms 2; McSwain 2.