Photo by Jerry Jackson: North Clayton star Marcus Hunt goes up for a lay-up in the Eagles' 74-67 loss in the Class AAAA semifinals at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Hunt finished his final high school basketball game with 40 points.
DULUTH — As each of the North Clayton players and coaches emerged from their locker room at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, the school's cheerleaders began to cheer.
It was only fitting that Marcus Hunt was the last to make his way from the locker room.
The 6-foot-6 Georgia Tech signee has been the heart and soul of a team short on overall talent, but equipped with a lot of grit and determination.
Against a star-studded Southwest DeKalb team, that wasn't enough.
As hard as Hunt tried, he and his Eagle teammates came up short as they fell 74-67 to fifth-ranked Southwest DeKalb in Wednesday's Class AAAA semifinals.
"We kept pushing it," said Hunt, who finished with a game-high 40 points. "We played hard the entire game. I think we proved a lot of people wrong this season that didn't think we would make it this far."
For the first three quarters, Southwest DeKalb cruised as it built a 53-42 lead going into the final quarter.
At that point, North Clayton started to make a game of it.
The Eagles pulled to within 58-57 when point guard Dionte Agard hit a jumper with 4:25 remaining. However, North Clayton could get no closer.
"We grabbed some momentum, but we kept settling for quick shots," North Clayton guard Dennis Johnson said. "We short of shot ourselves out of it. We took way too many quick shots."
While the Eagles' gameplan called for concentrating on Southwest DeKalb's top players, Jordan Price and William Goodwin, Panthers point guard Kadarius Turner played big.
"He (Turner) controlled the tempo," North Clayton coach Martisse Troup said. "We knew Goodwin and Price were going to get theirs, but he was sort of a surprise. He really didn't show that on film."
Turner finished with 17 points as the Panthers advance to their first state final in school history. This was the team's first trip to the semifinals since 1998.
Price, who signed with Auburn, finished with 29 points and Goodwin, a Memphis signee and McDonald's All-American, had 17 points in the win. Aside from Hunt, Eagles junior Devin Lewis finished with 13 points.
Southwest DeKalb coach Dwayne McKinney said his team was trying to contain North Clayton's other players from hurting them.
It seemed to work.
McKinney said that Hunt is one of the best players his team has faced this season.
"He’s right up there with them," McKinney said. "We knew he’d be a beast. We just wanted to contain the other guys. He’s one of the best we’ve seen hands down."
Troup said the legacy the team has left in winning its first region championship in 19 years and reaching the semifinals for the first time since 2007 should give his underclassmen something to shoot for next season.
"I'm so proud of this team," Troup said. "It was some little things that cost us this game. I'm hoping my younger guys look at this game, and it makes them hunger to get better."