“The game played out as we thought other than the finish,” said St. Francis basketball coach Cabral Huff after the game. “We knew it would be physical and a tight game, we just fell three minutes and 30 seconds short of our ultimate goal.”
Tied 41-41 with three and a half minutes to play, 6-foot-11 Greenforest center Tosin Mehinti, who dominated the paint all game and all season, pulled down an offseason rebound and scored to give Greenforest a 43-41 lead.
A bucket on the Eagles’ next possession pushed the margin to 45-41 and with the clock winding down St. Francis was forced to foul repeatedly with the clock running out.
Greenforest converted from the stripe to put away a 55-41 final.
“We had some unfortunate turnovers down the stretch and some shots that wouldn’t fall,” said Huff, whose team was forced to do most of their work from behind the three-point line against Greenforest and their 2-3 zone that featured three players that stood 6-foot-8 or taller guarding the rim.
“We battled them and showed mental toughness, like we did all season,” he continued. “Even in the first half we came out a bit nervous, but calmed down, battled back and regained the lead.”
Exerting their physical dominance to open the game, Greenforest made it tough sledding for a St. Francis offense that lit up the scoreboard for much of the season.
The Knights trailed by 10 points for much of the second quarter and only scored one basket from inside the three-point arc in the first half.
But freshman guard Kobi Simmons kept the Knights within striking distance by dropping 19 first-half points — including four three-pointers and going a perfect 5-for-5 from the free-throw line.
Trifectas from Malik Beasley and Kaiser Gates in the third quarter lead gave the Knights a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until Mehinti’s put-back with 3:30 to play in the fourth.
Simmons led all scorers with 20 points, Gates added 11. Mehinti scored 13 points and pulled down 15 rebounds.
After the game Huff said he was proud of the many victories his boys achieved this season — including a Senior Night win over then No. 1 North Cobb Christian, a thrilling overtime victory against defending state champ Whitefield Academy that sealed a region title and their Final Four victory against Aquinas at Kennesaw State.
But with 10 of 11 varsity players returning next winter, his team left the Macon Centerplex anything but satisfied with their season.
“We understand that nothing is given [to us] and that everyone will be after us next season with something to prove. But our guys left that locker room saying the off-season begins now and I know the hunger to get back to this stage, and win, is there,” Huff said.