By Gabriel Stovall
RIVERDALE, Ga. — It’s not that Jason Eisele didn’t appreciate what McIntosh basketball had accomplished before Saturday night’s Region 4-AAAAA final against Drew.
It’s just that he knew it would all ring hollow if somehow they allowed another opportunity to hoist region championship hardware slip through their fingers. So he issued a challenge designed to bring home the importance of validating an undefeated season with a region crown.
“Before the game I told them we’re 27-0 right now, and I would trade all 27 of those wins in for one more,” Eisele said.
Good news, Mcintosh fans: He got the “one more,” and won’t have to trade in the others.
The Chiefs made sure of that with a convincing — if not hard fought at times — 98-79 win over the Drew Titans, in Drew’s gym, to grab the Region 4-AAAAA championship that eluded them last season.
“Can’t say enough about these guys,” Eisele said. “They were focused all year long. And after last year, the way it ended up, this was really, really, really gratifying. I guess that’s the word.”
As gratifying as the win was for McIntosh coaches and players, it was equal parts electrifying for the fans in the stands, as they witnessed McIntosh junior Jordan Lyons put on a clutch shooting clinic — especially in the third quarter, where he scored 23 of his 43 total points to break open what had been a close, physical game in the first half.
Drew, behind the hot shooting of guard James Ruiz who had 16 first-half points, kept things close and played the second-ranked Chiefs bucket for bucket most of the way in the first half. McIntosh found itself clinging to a 35-34 lead at the break.
But when the teams came back out for the third quarter, it didn’t take long for Lyons to heat up. He drained his first of his five 3-pointers in the 3rd period just nine seconds in. And then on his next trip down, he found his same spot behind the arc in the left hand corner and drained another.
The scoring barrage helped McIntosh build as much as a 15 point lead in the third, but going into the game’s last stanza, Drew was still doing its best to keep the game in doubt.
Ruiz did his part when he drained a long jumper at the 6:45 mark in the fourth that whittled McIntosh’s lead to five at 68-63. But then Lyons caught fire again, along with Will Washington who dished out 17 assists in the game, and the Chiefs were able to put the Titans away for good.
“My point guard Will Washington was feeding me all game,” Lyons said. “He did a great job of finding me with the ball and I was just knocking down shots just like I was in pre-game.”
That, contrary to what you may have believed while watching the game, is when Lyons said he found his zone.
“Before the game, I knew it’d be a big stage and a big game,” he said. “I knew I had to come out and play like I do, and I knew I had to score the ball. It was in pre-game when I knew I had to get my zone right. I was focused and found my shot in the pre game. It was all about the pre-game.”
And as ridiculous as his scoring performance was, his coach didn’t seem too surprised.
“When Jordan is feeling it, nobody can stop him,” Eisele said. “The basket looked like a hula hoop for him tonight. He works hard. It was well earned.”
Both Eisele and Lyons acknowledged the scrappiness of the Titans bunch. And perhaps with another team, in another year, the Chiefs might’ve found a way to hiccup this one away.
Not this year.
“That loss we took last year hurt all of us tremendously,” Lyons said. “We were up 20 in that game to a good Mundy’s Mill team, but we knew we should’ve had that game. That was fuel, and then last year we lost in this game, so that was added fuel and motivation.”
Said Eisele: “In the locker room (at halftime) there was resolve, and we knew we weren’t gonna let this one get away.”
Now on to bigger goals, and a different stage, starting Wednesday against Camden County in round one of the state tournament. Yet, the mission remains the same.
“All year it’s been about making history for us,” Eisele said. “We did it with the undefeated season. This will be the first banner we’ll ever put up in our gym for McIntosh basketball. And maybe we’ll have some more chapters to write before it’s all said and done.”