In the final seconds of overtime in Friday’s Class 4A state championship, Columbus forward Tatyana Wyatt decided to take a 3-pointer and let the win or loss fall squarely on her shoulders.
Like so many times before, Wyatt came through for her team.
Wyatt hit a shot behind the arc with nine seconds left in overtime to give Columbus a 69-67 victory over crosstown rival Carver (26-5). After Columbus (25-5) dominated for the better part of the game, the Lady Blue Devils were forced to rally back in overtime after a stupendous Carver run forced the game to go to an extra session.
“When it came off my hand, I just knew it was going in,” Wyatt said. “I work on my shot a lot, so I know when it’s going in when it come off my hand.”
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Wyatt’s shot finished off a wild extra session of basketball. Both sides missed multiple free throws throughout the session leaving the outcome in doubt for either side. Carver’s Ja’Nya Love-Hill hit a layup with 23 seconds left to go up 67-66. Love-Hill’s basket left it in the Lady Blue Devils’ hands to answer back or watch the Lady Tiger walk away with the crown.
Wyatt volunteered to take the shot that ultimately ended her Columbus career as a champion. The victory also provided a sense of redemption for Wyatt and the other Columbus seniors, who lost in the state championship game to Redan as freshmen.
Wyatt finished the game with a game-high 27 points and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“She stepped up and made a big-time shot,” Columbus head coach Joe Cherrone said. “She never quit. She’s got an automatic trigger on her, and that’s why she’s going to Kentucky.”
While Carver fell short, it wasn’t for lack of trying late. The Lady Tigers trailed by double digits for the majority of the game. That is, until a late rally in the fourth quarter sent the game’s outcome from unquestioned to completely undecided.
Love-Hill’s 3-pointer with 2:10 to go cut Columbus’ lead to seven points, then Mya Millner delivered a layup to cut the deficit to five points. A few possessions later, Alycia Reese dropped a 3-pointer to make it a 56-54 game with 46 seconds to go.
Reese went to the line with four seconds left in regulation with Columbus down two points. She connected on both shots, sending the game to overtime.
At that point, Cherrone had to regroup his team.
“I told them to just be patient,” Cherrone said. “We had four minutes to work with. We tried to match their intensity: They scored a bucket, and we tried to force a foul and get a shot. We tried to keep it back and forth.”
Columbus had started the game in total control, using its height advantage to overpower Carver in the opening minutes. The Lady Blue Devils’ offense had trouble with its shooting, but multiple rebounds coupled with a stifling defense led by Ariyah Copeland and Wyatt let the team build a 9-2 lead.
Carver had several opportunities to close the gap in the first half, but the Lady Blue Devils were unrelenting. Columbus maintained a double-digit lead for the majority of the contest. Carver struggled to dictate the pace of the game, which were pivotal in the Lady Tigers’ two previous victories against Columbus this season.
The Carver fourth-quarter comeback came about with input from both teams. While the Lady Tigers found a rhythm offensively, Columbus forward Copeland exited the game with an apparent ankle injury. The 6-foot-2 forward’s absence opened the lanes up more for the Lady Tigers, giving them a fighting chance down the stretch.
Carver made it close, but Wyatt played the part of hero for Columbus one last time and capped off a special season for the Lady Blue Devils.
“It’s history in Columbus,” Cherrone said. “It’s only the second girls team ever to win a state title in Columbus, Georgia. It means so much to the program. Now we have a banner to hang in the gym.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports