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After blowing out their opponents with a run-and-gun style through the first two playoff rounds, the John Milledge Academy boys basketball team played a very different type of ballgame to win its Final Four matchup against Bulloch Academy Friday.

The Trojans beat the Gators 40-33 to advance to the GISA AAA boys state championship against either top-seeded Creekside Christian Academy or No. 4 Cristo Rey. The title game is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. Saturday at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus. 

John Milledge is trying for the first boys basketball state championship in program history. This will be the Trojans’ first trip to the finals since 2016 when the team lost to Gatewood.

Heading into the state semifinal, the second-ranked JMA boys definitely had the advantage on paper as they were toting a 25-1 record against Bulloch’s 13-11 mark. But games are not played on paper, and the sixth-seeded Gators of Statesboro proved to be a very worthy challenger. No quarter except the fourth ended with either team up by more three points.

Big game jitters definitely had an effect on both teams throughout the semifinal contest, especially early. Shots fell short of the mark on many occasions no matter which color jersey was shooting, and the first quarter ended with more combined turnovers than baskets made. The scoreboard read just 9-8 in Bulloch’s favor heading into the second.

The Trojans got to play their brand of basketball through much of the next frame as they went on a 9-0 run to open the quarter. The momentum-grabber was capped by an unselfish play as Marcus Prestwood made the extra pass to Jalan Butts in the right corner where he hit a three to put JMA up 17-9. Trojan head coach David Gallagher has said plays like that are what have made his team so successful this season. Bulloch answered with its own trey over a minute later to finally bring the surge to an end, and actually closed the half on a 7-1 spurt to bring the gap to two.

Low-scoring play resumed after the break. John Milledge went up by as much as five at one point in the third, but the Gators again chewed into the lead to go into the fourth down 26-23. 

For the Trojans, the final period was all about maintaining and hitting enough free throws to keep Bulloch at bay. The JMA boys didn’t exactly dazzle from the line late as they were good on just 4-of-9 attempts down the stretch, but those four free points and good defense were enough to close the door and get into the title round. 

Junior Marcus Prestwood led the Trojans with 13 points while senior Patrick McDonel had nine down in the post. Banks Eady and Butts both contributed seven points apiece to the winning effort. For Bulloch, over half their points came from senior point guard Ryan Swanson who had 18. 

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