Wednesday April 17th, 2024 9:21AM

STATE CHAMPS! Lakeview boys snag 1st-ever title in OT

By Jeff Hart | Video by Seth Chapman

COLUMBUS, Ga. — If ever a court-storming was warranted, Friday was it.

The Lakeview Academy boys outscored Heritage-Newnan 11-2 in overtime to lift the Lions to a 53-44 win in the GIAA Class 3A championship game and give both the Lions and first-year coach Benjie Wood their first-ever state title trophies.

Neither had won a state title coming into the showdown with the top-seeded Hawks. Wood had taken Gainesville (2018) and Buford (2022) to championship games in the GHSA, but both times he walked away empty-handed. It was Lakeview’s first-ever trip to a final in any league.

It was understandable that Wood stood motionless and emotional moments after the Lions faithful had rushed the court following the victory.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to the Lakeview community for welcoming me and my family,” he said, fighting back tears. “I’m also just so proud of these kids. They fought and scrapped. And they played great defense.”

Mehki Barber poured in 8 of his game-high 24 points in the extra period, and 14 overall after the third quarter. After a free throw to open the overtime, Barber’s steal and layup moments later gave the Lions (25-5) a 45-42 lead they would not relinquish.

He scored the final six points of the game, including a tip-in with 20 seconds that sealed any thoughts the Hawks had of a comeback.

“My teammates rely on me and it just kind of came to me (in the overtime) and I had some opportunities to make some plays,” the sophomore said. “It feels great to be able contribute when we needed it.”

However, the Lions were probably lucky to have a chance following a rough start. Barber opened the game with a three-point play in the first 40 seconds, but the Hawks responded with a 12-0 run and held the Lions scoreless for over six minutes until Barber hit a jumper to close the period with Lakeview trailing 12-5.

“We were a little nervous at the start, and we just needed to settle down,” Wood said.”What we do is play defense, and I thought we played really good after the first quarter.”

Lakeview held a Heritage team averaging over 60 points/game to just 6 points in the second quarter to get back in the game.

Keelan Harper had a steal and layup, and JR Thompson capped a 9-0 run as Lakeview was able to fight back to trail 18-17 at the half. The Lions continued to pressure the Hawks in the third, using an 11-2 run to grab a 30-23 lead.

The Hawks battled back to trail 31-30 going into the fourth quarter, but a Brock Graham 3-pointer pushed Lakeview’s lead back to 38-33 with just over two minutes remaining. A Barber basket with 22 seconds left for a 42-39 lead looked like it would be the final dagger. 

But Max Skidmore, who finished with 16 points to pace the Hawks, drained a long 3-pointer after a wild scramble to tie the game at 42 with just 9 seconds left.

Barber appeared to have won the game in regulation with a 3-pointer with :00.8 seconds on the clock. But Wood had called timeout just before the shot, and Lakeview was not able to get off a shot at the buzzer as it went to overtime.

Barber then left little doubt as he took over the overtime.

“Mehki was special,” Wood said. “Special players make special plays at special times and he did that tonight. Once he starts cooking, we just feed him the ball. Just a special performance.”

Barber had help. Tayden Ware had 10 points, 8 after halftime, and Graham finished with 7 points for Lakeview. Eli Mayfield had 4, Justyce Sadler 3, Thompson and Harper 2 apiece, and Kyari Burch had 1 for the Lions.

Mason Bolinger had 11 for Heritage-Newnan.

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