On the same night that the NCAA Tournament first round games tipped off across the country, a group of high school seniors provided highlights equally as good as any of their collegiate counterparts in the Northwest Georgia Tip-Off Club boys all-star game at Georgia Highlands on Thursday.
The game featured back-and-forth play from both teams, a buzzer beater that sent the contest into an overtime and a couple of clutch shots and a dunk to end the game with a 93-90 win for Team Claytor.
Matt Claytor, the former head coach at Unity Christian, coached one squad, and Jared Groce, who just stepped down as Chattooga’s head coach, led the other.
Team Groce fought back late in the fourth quarter when Ringgold’s O’Reilly Matthews drilled a 3-pointer to tie the contest at 74-all with 1:37 left. Rome High’s Cameron Keith answered on the opposite end with a 3 of his own to retake the lead at 77-74.
Matthews again came up big for Team Groce with another 3-pointer to tie the score at 77-all this time with 49 seconds remaining. It appeared Team Groce might win the game when Excel Christina’s Jakaden Barkley drove to the basket for a lay-up and a 79-77 lead with 12 seconds remaining.
The final 12 seconds featured a couple of loose balls, but Team Claytor managed to get the ball underneath to Cartersville High’s Tyren Miller, who laid the ball in as the buzzer sounded causing a moment of confusion. One referee waved off the shot, saying it came after the buzzer. The officials conferenced at half court, and the crowd implored them to count the basket, which they did, sending the game to overtime.
Model’s Jakenes Heard came alive in the overtime period with an early basket and a block, but it was his dunk with a minute left that put Team Claytor up for good.
After a defensive stop, Heard scored again, giving his squad a 91-87 cushion with 32 seconds left.
Darlington’s Syzmon Paluch drilled a 3-pointer with 21.3 left for Team Groce, cutting the lead to 91-90, but Keith scored another basket, upping the lead to 93-90 and Team Claytor held on for the win.
Chattooga’s Damien Smith led all scorers with 22 points. The guard caught fire in the second half and drilled four 3-pointers, including two from well beyond the 3-point line.
Barkley added 20 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double. The swift guard drove to the basket all night, managing to score a lot of points for Team Groce.
Paluch added 14 points as did Matthews with both hitting some big 3-pointers. Chattooga Trey Smith finished with 10 points on the evening. Lafayette’s Jaden Morris added seven points and 11 rebounds, while Chattooga’s Brady Groce scored three points and swiped seven rebounds.
Cartersville’s Romo Pace led the scorers for Team Claytor, as the guard attacked the basket all evening. Keith added 16 points and seven rebounds, while Cartersville’s Jaylen Scott scored 15 points.
Heard finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, while Gordon Central’s Tyler Hedges scored nine points, Miller scored six points and Gordon Central’s Seth Haygood added five points.
“It was a great experience getting to coach these guys and coach with a good friend of mine and a former player of mine,” Matt Claytor said. “I don’t coach anymore, so I can tell everyone now that I went out on top.”
When asked if the last-minute shot that sent the game into overtime beat the buzzer, Claytor gave a laugh and flashed a big smile.
“Oh, yeah. He made it with plenty of time left,” he said.