BRISTOL, Tenn. — In the Arby’s Classic championship game Tuesday night, Milton found a way to shut down the scoring of Greater Atlanta Christian’s Isaiah Wilkins for the entire second half.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, that wasn’t enough to deny the 6-foot-7 senior forward the Arby’s Buck Van Huss MVP trophy — or the Spartans the Arby’s Classic crown.
Wilkins contributed 20 points to Greater Atlanta Christian’s 63-56 win over Milton, which also hails from the Atlanta area.
The Spartans (14-0) are a Georgia High School Association Class 2A program. The Eagles (10-4) are a GHSA Class 6A program. The teams were acutely aware of each other — some Milton and GAC players have even played on the same AAU squads — but the Arby’s was the only venue the two elite squads could have met on the same floor this season.
“This lets our kids know that we can play against some very good teams,” said Spartans coach Eddie Martin, who coached GAC to a runner-up finish in the 2009 Arby’s. “To play against this quality competition just prepares our kids when we get to postseason play. We can’t simulate anything (Milton) does in practice.”
Wilkins, the son of former Atlanta Hawks star Dominique Wilkins, was on fire in the first half. The Spartans trailed 16-13 headed into a sudden explosion by Wilkins that included a crowd-pleasing dunk off a laser-like Troy Morrison assist and ended with him grabbing a loose ball for a buzzer-beating 3-point stickback over his shoulder for the 31-21 halftime lead.
“They made some shots in the first half that quite frankly I was comfortable with them taking. Those things all matter. Basketball is a funny thing. Sometimes, they make it out to be more than it is,” said Milton coach Matt Kramer, whose team played in the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., before coming to the Arby’s.
After intermission, the Eagles’ Mo Lewis and Chris Lewis did a superb job holding Wilkins scoreless in the second half. Greater Atlanta point guard Morrison, who handed out six assists, took up the slack with 17 points. Eric Jameson added 10 points.
“That doesn’t bother (Wilkins). If he’s going to draw the attention, that frees up other kids out there. Isaiah is one of the most unselfish players out there. He’d rather get a block or a rebound than score a point,” Martin said.
He didn’t get many rebounds, for that matter, but one of the two blocks he collected was huge.
The Eagles closed in on the Spartans with consecutive trifectas from Chris Lewis and Zach Hodskins. A midcourt steal by Jonathan Holland converted into a transition layup by Shawn O’Connell cut it to 52-50 with 5:25 remaining in the game.
Hodskins, a fantastic shooter, ball handler and distributor despite having been born with a left arm that ends abruptly at his elbow, was the unquestionable fan favorite at this year’s Arby’s. The all-tournament pick had 11 points Tuesday, including three treys that got the crowd into the game.
The GAC possession after McConnell’s layup ended on an unfinished Wilkins assist attempt. The big man could see Hodskins already moving down the floor, getting himself into position outside the arc. The pass got there before Wilkins, but somehow he arrived in time to swat away what could have been the momentum stealer.
“I saw him in the corner and I knew every time he touched the ball the crowd was ready to go crazy. I knew I had to get to this or adjust it or something. I had to handle it,” Wilkins said.
Morrison hit a pair of free throws with 4:43 on the clock and on the next possession kicked the ball to Garrett Covington, whose 3-pointer gave the eventual champs seven points' worth of much-needed breathing room.
“They got a big run at the end of the game and I think we stepped up defensively,” said Morrison, an all-tournament pick who hit all four of his free throws in clutch time. “I think the main reason we won was free throws, again. I’m sure that’s the reason why we won.”
GAC’s Tyler Hamilton was also named to the all-tournament roster.
Chris Lewis finished with 12 points for Milton and DaQuain Watts added 10.
O’Connell and Mo Lewis were both named to the all tournament team. Others making the team were Robert Joseph of Tabernacle Baptist, Ty Gadsden and Nehemiah Mabson of United Faith, Braxton Bonds and Braxton Blackwell of Christ Presbyterian Academy, Dedric Lawson of Hamilton, Isaac Merian and Jaylen Henderson of Oak Ridge, Kyle Oliver of Oakland and Aaron Augustin of Peachtree Ridge.