Nearly a two-hour drive from DeKalb County, the city of Macon has become a showcase for the county’s most prolific basketball dynasty.
For the third year in a row, the Columbia High School boys’ team won the Class AAA state basketball championship. The Eagles became the first school since Macon’s Lanier in the 1940s to win five titles over a seven-year span.
For coach Phil McCrary, who holds the distinction of the most wins in DeKalb County history, familiarity with glory showed no creeping signs of apathy. The hard-fought 65-46 victory over Drew was his sixth state championship. McCrary reached the 500-win plateau last season.
“They stepped up and did the things they were capable of doing to pull it out,” he said in tribute of his players, whose respectful postgame composure was noted by a few court onlookers. “We’ve pushed for that goal to stay ahead.”
Saturday started according to plan. The girls wasted little time in stamping their mark, racing into a 33-16 halftime lead that ballooned to 42-28 by the third quarter’s finish. Senior Kadeeja Vaughn had a performance to savor in her last Columbia outing, scoring 19 points with 18 rebounds.
The Lady Eagles (24-5) went on a 13-0 run to start the fourth quarter to put the game away as five different players scored.
Alisha Gray ended the Washington County (31-1) drought with a 3-pointer with 48 seconds remaining and Columbia ahead 55-31.
Miah Spencer, who handled the tough job of defending Gray for much of the night, scored 15 points for Columbia. Point guard Zuri Frost added nine points and was instrumental in consistently breaking the Washington County press.
The fourth quarter was a partying procession. Washington County had no realistic way back, and the chanting from the stands began in earnest. A favorite: “We’re number one…we’re number one!”
“It’s sweet, it really is sweet,” said jubilant girls coach Chantay Frost moments after ousting Washington County 57-33 in the final. “We played hard, we had intensity and got the job done.” Frost led Columbia to its first girls state basketball title in 2010.
But if the mood was initiated by the girls, the boys showed up like wallflowers. Their opponent, Drew, was intent on stifling Columbia’s offense by playing ugly. It worked for much of the first half. Despite being ahead 32-22 entering the third quarter, the Eagles were nowhere near at their ruthless best.
And having missed a slew of foul shots early in the fourth quarter, their lead slimmed to 49-43 with 4:46 remaining. That’s when they rediscovered their championship mettle.
Tahj Shamsid-Deen sank four straight free throws to help seal the win.
For team member Jhasutin Thomas, his teammates had to find another gear to outlast Drew in a test of nerves. “Most teams don’t get to do this,” he said. “I was thinking, don’t give up—we can win.”
McCray was animated throughout the topsy-turvy fourth quarter. “We lost our composure down the stretch but ended up gaining it back,” he said. “I always tell the guys, ‘what legacy do you want to leave? Do you want to go out as winners or do you want to go out as runners up?’”
Shamsid-Deen finished with a game-high 17 points and was joined in double figures by Thomas with 10. Seniors Damian Goodwin and Chris Horton added 10 rebounds each in the game they dominated on the boards 40-18.
With six rings and players like Shamsid-Deen only a junior, there’s every reason to believe that the Eagles and their legacy will be around to for a long time.