McEachern’s heralded leader the past four seasons came through one final time. T’ea Cooper sealed her high school career by leading McEachern to its third state title in four years Saturday night in Macon, GA.
In addition to her game-high 26 points, her leadership, timely playmaking and clutch free throws late-on a night where she struggled from the stripe, propelled the Indians to a 58-51 overtime victory over Norcross (28-5).
Cooper battled foul trouble for the second consecutive title game yet remained poised throughout. Cooper picked up her third foul with 3:31 left in the second quarter with McEachern trailing 22-21. Norcross expanded the lead to 28-21 before leading 32-25 at halftime as Cooper sat the final two-plus minutes of the half.
McEachern chipped away at the lead for the bulk of the third quarter before Jasmine Clements nailed a three-pointer to cap a 7-0 run closing the quarter with McEachern leading 39-37.
In the fourth, Jada Lewis scored on a fastbreak layup to put McEachern up 45-39 with 5:36 remaining. Norcross battled back and knotted the score at 45-all behind a personal 6-0 run by Tylia Gillespie midway through the fourth. The squads battled from there until Norcross’ Taylor Mason drilled a three-pointer to even the count at 50-all with 61 seconds remaining.
Mason then fouled Cooper with 43 seconds left however Cooper (5-12 FT) missed both free throws giving Norcross the last shot. Mason’s shot missed under duress from Tierra Lindsey, who was playing with four fouls, forcing overtime.
Cooper rose to the occasion in overtime as she has throughout her career, especially this postseason. Cooper opened overtime with a bucket for a 52-50 Indians lead. Later, she assisted on a Tierra Lindsey bucket putting McEachern up 56-51 with 55 seconds left in overtime. Lindsey was fouled on the play. Lindsey missed the free throw but there was Clements for the offensive rebound.
“(Clements) told (the coaching staff) she liked coming off the bench better. She liked sitting back and seeing what’s happening,” McEachern head coach Phyllis Arthur said on Clements play. “She’s young, a sophomore…she wanted it, she even asked for the ball when she shot the three.”
On the extra possession Cooper turned the ball over however Gillespie blew the open layup. Jada Lewis grabbed the rebound and salted the game away at the free throw line for the 58-51 final.
McEachern leads the series 4-3 overall since 2010, the squads are 1-1 in title games during that span and have combined have won the last six championships in Georgia’s highest classification.
“We would love for it to be a rivalry, (Norcross’ Hembree) is a great coach and if we can make it work we’ll make it work,” Arthur stated.
Freshmen Chanel Wilson was the only other Indian to finish in double figures with 13 points. Lewis and Lindsey tallied six each while Clements grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds to go with four points.
Gillespie led Norcross with 20 points and 13 rebounds off the bench followed by Mason with 11. Allison Johnson grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds in addition to her eight points.
“She’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen,” Arthur said about Cooper. “Very high basketball IQ, unselfish, a creator. She wants it, she got it, she deserves it.
Cooper (Tennessee signee) leaves McEachern winning three titles three different ways. As a freshman she guided McEachern to a 33-0 mark with power players, Dominique Wilson (NC State), Destiny Gibbs (Southern Cal) and Pachis Roberts (Georgia) defeating Hillgrove. Taylor Gordon was by her side along with Aneshia Williams (Gardner Webb) and Caliya Robinson (Georgia signee) in a win over Archer.
This season she was the marquee player on an overall inexperienced team, save Jada Lewis, which held the number one ranking nationally for multiple weeks this season, before injuries hit the roster resulting in key losses.
“She can win without big studs, she should be the national player of the year,” Arthur firmly stated.