The West Forsyth boys basketball team’s starters sat in their respective chairs on the sidelines with just a minute left in regulation against Milton on Friday night wondering what had just hit them, some with their faces buried in the palms of their hands.
The Wolverines, one day removed from their second win of the season over Lambert, had shown plenty of resolve in the first half against the favored Eagles in Friday’s Region 5-7A boys championship game. But as the game went on, West looked less sure, and by the fourth quarter, the Wolverines were done.
So the players that had played an almost flawless first half sat there, motionless, already looking for any future opportunity to redeem themselves at the tail end of the eventual 64-42 loss to the Eagles. They’ll get one: As a No. 2 seed out of the region, the Wolverines will have a chance to bounce back at home next week against a soon-to-be determined Region 8 opponent.
“I guess we've got to take this in and just let it hurt so whenever we come back to practice, we have fire in our stomachs,” Jack Bock said.
West entered the fourth quarter down 42-35, but with the deficit in single digits, there was still a realistic chance for the Wolverines to complete a thrilling ending. Early in the period, though, Milton’s size and speed began to outmatch the Wolverines, and in mere minutes, the Eagles had gone on a 17-0 run to take a commanding 59-35 advantage. Bock finally got a bucket with a few minutes to go to snap his team’s long scoreless streak, but by that point, it was too late.
“For us to win, we had to play an almost flawless game,” West head coach Fredrick Hurt said. “That’s hard to do in high school basketball, and in the first half we were close. It's hard to do that for a whole game.
“They're longer than us at every position. They're very athletic and they're disciplined on defense. That makes it tough. We had to work for every shot.”
After the Eagles’ Donaven Hairston hit a three right out of the game’s opening tip, David Banks got a turnover and went the other way for an uncontested slam to make it 9-4 Eagles with five minutes to go in the first. West played solid inside defense early on, though, with Payton Aiken putting together some nice plays in the lane. Later in the first quarter, the Wolverines went on a 7-0 run behind shots from Bock and Mikhari Sibblis. After a Bock three to end the frame, Milton held a slim 17-15 edge over West.
“They weren't ready for us, honestly,” Bock said. “We came out and hit them hard first, which kept us in the game.”
Bock began the second quarter by tying the game with a one-handed jumper. West’s inside defense continued to be effective, and the Wolverines rebounded well enough to get plenty of second chances at the rim. With 4:47 left in the first half, Sibblis got a putback to tie the game again at 19-19. However, a Milton run later in the quarter extended the Eagles’ lead to 30-25 by the half.
The Wolverines continued to just stay in contention in the third, but towards the end of the period, Milton’s length began to become more of a factor, with the Eagles blocking a good amount of shots and passes. A short West run in the middle of the quarter kept the Wolverines alive for just a little bit longer before the decisive fourth quarter.
West felt plenty of heartbreak in the locker room after Friday’s game, but Hurt made sure to remind his players that their season wasn’t over, and that come next week, another team similar to the Eagles will be coming into their house.
“We're going to try to build on the positives and improve on the things we've got to improve on,” Hurt said. “We’re going to play a team that's probably going to be very athletic in the first round of the state playoffs. We're playing a team from Gwinnett -- they're going to be good. We're glad we have the opportunity to play in the playoffs and host a state playoff game.”
Bock led the Wolverines with 13 points. Sibblis and Broc Bidwell scored eight and 10, respectively.