MACON, Ga. — The magic that carried the Hancock Central boys basketball team through two buzzer-beating wins in the Elite Eight and Final Four did not travel to the Macon Coliseum Saturday.
The Bulldogs of Sparta (15-2) trailed the Towns County Indians (25-3) basically from the second quarter on and fell by a final score of 64-60, ending Hancock’s bid at back-to-back Class A-Public state championships.
The taller Towns squad put up 44 points in the paint to the Bulldogs’ 18. Defensively, the Indians were content to play zone defense while Hancock struggled to hit from three, especially early. The 2020 state champs were just 2/20 beyond the arc at halftime. Their second-half performance improved to 7/20, but Towns was a much more consistent 49.1% from the floor throughout the game to secure the title.
The Indians of northeast Georgia were led by junior big man Jake McTaggart who finished with a 22-point, 12-rebound double-double. Kolby Moss accomplished the same feat with his 14 points and 14 rebounds before fouling out late. Colin Crowder had 12 points to bolster Towns.
Hancock Central was led in scoring by seniors Marquavious Lawrence and Leroy Wilson who had 18 points apiece. Lawrence did most of his damage with a smooth jumper in the high post. Senior Jamal “Peanut” Taylor, the player who hit both buzzer beaters to get the Bulldogs to the finals, finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. A majority of his scoring was done late as he fought tooth and nail to keep his team in the ballgame.
“I’m extremely proud of them,” Hancock Central head coach Ricky Chatman said of his players. “Win or lose, I’m proud of them. They’re a great group of kids.”
The Bulldogs’ subpar shooting performance was evident from the outset. They were nearly 0-for the first quarter from three until Jaylon Hatcher came off the bench to knock one down in the left corner, putting his team up 13-11 in one of the game’s five lead changes. Taylor beat the first-quarter buzzer to lift Hancock to the lead a second time, 16-14.
The second quarter is where Towns pulled away. Knowing their team had the height advantage, the Indian guards were able to sneak up the floor once Hancock put up a shot and were there for the quick outlet and easy transition points.
“We knew we had to get back in transition, and we didn’t do that well,” Chatman said. “We knew we’d have to rebound, and we didn’t do that well.”
The Bulldogs did actually win the rebounding battle 43-41, but a lot of that came late when they really needed them. Wilson led the team with 10 boards, making him the third player in the championship game to earn a double-double.
After the half, Hancock got to within two on a Taylor trey with 1:30 to go in the third. It looked like the momentum might shift the Sparta school’s way, but Towns’ Moss hit his own buzzer-beating midrange jumper to steal it right back.
The Bulldogs narrowed the margin to four a couple of times in the fourth, but the Indians had the answer every single time, mostly in McTaggart. Towns had the luxury of being patient with the basketball and getting the shot it wanted while Hancock was rushing to fight back. Indian fans knew they had victory when the team was up seven with around a minute to play. Hancock had a possession with three shot attempts, but none fell before Towns regained the basketball, dashing hopes for another Bulldog miracle.