HOOPS ROUNDUP: Atomsmashers Underdog Run Ends: Sandy Creek Repeats as State Champions, Downs Johnson

By Nathan Dominitz/Special to Prep Sports Report | March 9, 2024

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The top-ranked Sandy Creek boys basketball team had mauled the opposition on its path to the GHSA Class 3A state title game, winning four playoff contests by an average of 47.5 points.

Unranked Johnson, on the other hand, had opened the postseason with a comfortable victory, then battled through three tight games to advance to the Macon Coliseum on Friday afternoon.

It was going to take a Herculean effort for the Atom Smashers to dethrone the Patriots, the defending state champions.

After a very early sign that Johnson could stay with Sandy Creek when the score was tied at 11 in the first quarter, it was the Patriots’ day in a decisive 74-49 victory for back-to-back crowns.

Sandy Creek (27-3) closed out the first quarter on a 9-0 run after the lone tie of the contest. The second quarter was more of the same for a 42-22 halftime lead.

Then the Patriots really poured it on, crushing any thoughts of the Atom Smashers chipping away at the growing deficit. Instead, Sandy Creek won the quarter 21-8 and forged a 33-point lead – more points than Johnson had scored to that point.

The Atom Smashers (20-12), whose last state title came in 2013 in a win over crosstown rival Savannah High, played hard until the end. The gap closed a bit with a 19-11 fourth quarter – reduced from the standard eight minutes to six because of the deficit. The Patriots did not take out their starters until about the final two minutes.

“We're proud of our boys! Our story isn't finished; we're just getting started,” a Johnson High School account on X, formerly Twitter, posted after the game’s conclusion.

Johnson, which was ranked in Class 3A earlier in the season by, played a tough slate and got off to 2-4 start. Coach Chuck Campbell intentionally picks difficult opponents before Region 3-3A play begins to prepare his players for the grind.

The Atom Smashers played their best basketball in the playoffs, knocking off Jackson (76-50), No. 7 Cross Creek (61-56), No. 6 Hebron Christian (57-50) and last Saturday in a nail-biter, 55-51, over No. 4 Dougherty in the semifinals played at Savannah State University.

Friday’s opponents were familiar, as Sandy Creek had perhaps its toughest test in the 2023 state playoffs in eliminating Johnson 56-50 in the quarterfinals en route to the crown. The Atom Smashers were stopped in three consecutive quarterfinal appearances before breaking through this season.

Sandy Creek, which has not lost a game in its region since January 2018, is accustomed to contending for state titles in coach Jon-Michael Nickerson’s seven seasons. The current squad is loaded with talent, with 6-foot-7 power forward Micah Smith, a senior who has signed with James Madison, the most lauded standout.

Smith didn’t need to carry the load Friday, though he finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks, four assists and two steals.

Every starter scored in double figures for the Patriots, who shot 44.6 percent (25 of 56) from the floor, including 42.1 percent (8 of 19) from beyond the arc. They seemed particularly adept at answering the infrequent Atom Smashers’ basket with a dagger from long range.

One key was hitting the glass, with the taller Sandy Creek squad pulling down 17 offensive rebounds and scoring 18 second-chance points. The total rebounding advantage was a lopsided 44-25, and points in the paint was 26-10. 

With Sandy Creek scoring with regularity and controlling the tempo, Johnson had few opportunities to get out on the fast break and had trouble scoring in a halfcourt offense against the man-to-man defense.

Senior Josh Quarterman, the Region 3-3A Player of the Year, gave a strong effort with a game-high 20 points, including 7 of 8 from the free-throw line, as his team made 16 of 19.

Shots didn’t fall often enough from the floor, however, as Johnson was 15 of 51 (29.4 percent) on field goals, including 3 of 14 (21.4 percent) from long range. 

Once Sandy Creek got rolling, Johnson needed to take, and make, higher-percentage shots, but the Patriots had the defensive effort to match its fluid offense. They didn’t allow the Atom Smashers to run nor put together scoring runs.

Johnson will graduate two key players in seniors Quarterman and Cormari Jones (seven points, team-high six rebounds). Among those returning is junior Favion Kirkwood, who has made great strides in a short time developing an inside and outside game, as coach Campbell has noted. Kirkwood finished with 16 points, making 2 of 5 from long range.



Johnson        |11|11|8|19|--49

Sandy Creek |20|22|21|11|--74 


Josh Quarterman 20, Jones 7, Priester 0, Favion Kirkwood 16, Parker 2, Davis 0, James 4, T. Robinson 0, Jahlon Polite 0, Jahdon Polite 0.


Jacobin Robinson 18, Jared White 12, Micah Smith 15, Amari Brown 11, PJ Green 12, Hales 2, Latimer 0, Rivers 3, Av. Florence 0, Okeke 0, Hawkins 0, Rashied-Henry 1, Johnson 1, Au. Florence 0.

Records—Johnson 20-12, Sandy Creek 27-3.


PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy WJCL Weekend Sports Anchor Preston Harvey

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