Wednesday April 17th, 2024 8:01AM

Boys GIAA playoffs: 'Tough' Lakeview knocks out 2-time defending state champs

By Jeff Hart | Video by Seth Chapman

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Benjie Wood had been preaching toughness to his young Lakeview Academy team all year.

They were never tougher than on Wednesday in the semifinals of the GIAA Class 3A playoffs.

The Lions rallied from five down over the final three minutes of regulation to force overtime, then Tayden Ware dropped in a layup at the buzzer in the extra period to give Lakeview a thrilling 56-54 win over two-time defending state champion St. Andrews.

“Our guys showed a lot of toughness tonight,” Wood said afterward. “Especially on the defensive end. Really proud of the guys and how they fought back.”

With the win, third-seeded Lakeview  (25-5) advances to the GIAA Class 3A finals at Columbus State against No. 1 Heritage-Newnan, a 60-50 winner over Frederica Academy in the other semifinal. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. on Friday.

Lakeview did not look intimidated by the two-time champs, running out to a 16-7 lead with a 7-0 run after the teams swapped four quick lead changes. But St. Andrews (22-8) showed why they are the champs.

St. Andrews got a 3-pointer from Zayden Edwards at the buzzer to end the opening period and that would spark a 16-2 run into the second quarter. They held Lakeview to just one Brock Graham basket over a six-minute stretch while taking a 23-18 lead.

But Lakeview fought back, with Eli Mayfield hitting a long 3-pointer and then dishing off a beautiful pass to Mekhi Barber to close out the half tied at 25.

In the third quarter, the teams exchanged a trio of leads, with Edwards giving St. Andrews a 37-36 lead to end the period on his third 3-pointer of the game. In the fourth quarter, St. Andrews looked ready to put away the Lions when RaKari Harrison gave them a 44-39 lead with 4:38 left.

Lakeview had gotten hit by another shooting lull during that stretch that nearly cost them a chance at their first-ever finals.

“We didn’t shoot the ball that well tonight, but again, we just showed a lot of toughness in staying in the game,” Wood said.

But Ware turned it up a notch. The junior forward converted a pair of three-point plays, and then Mayfield drained his second trey of the night to get Lakeview within 49-48 with 1:26 left.

The Lions reclaimed the lead on a bizarre sequence. Following Mayfield’s 3-pointer, St. Andrews was called for having six players on the court, and Justyce Sdaler hit both free throws for a 50-49 lead.

Edwards hit one of two free throws with 14 seconds left, and Lakeview’s last-second shot by Barber came after the buzzer, sending things to overtime.

In the overtime, Lakeview never trailed, but the game was tied at 54 after Sadler hit a basket and two free throws, and Harrison matched him with a basket and two free throws. 

But the Lions were left with the final possession with 4 seconds left. A perfect lob into Ware set him up for an uncontested layup nearly at the buzzer to send the Lions into the title game.

“We’ve been feeding it to Tayden all year, and he is such a great kid,” Wood said. “He really stepped it up for us there. He was doggone tough all night.”

Over the final 8 minutes, the Lakeview defense held St. Andrews to just two field goals.

“I thought we got after them pretty good,” Wood said of the defensive effort. “They just showed that toughness and stuck together.”

Ware finished with 19 points -- nine coming in the fourth quarter and overtime -- to pace Lakeview. Sadler added 17 points for the Lions. Barber chipped in with 9, and Mayfield had 8 for the Lions.

Edwards poured in a game-high 20 points to lead St. Andrews. Will Thompson had 13 and Harrison 10 for St. Andrews.

© Copyright 2024
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.