SAVANNAH, Ga. — Just five minutes into Savannah’s elite eight boys basketball matchup with Washington County, Blue Jackets star Chris Cokley went up for a rebound and was undercut by a Washington County player.
Cokley came down hard on his head and was knocked momentarily unconscious – stunning his teammates and everyone in the gym.
The standout junior center came to and walked off the court, but was later taken out on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance.
The Blue Jackets made up for the loss of one of their best players with a spirited effort against a tough Washington County squad – beating the Golden Eagles 61-57 to advance to the Class AAA final four.
Savannah coach Tim Jordan said Cokley was alert and talking in the hospital late Wednesday night as he awaited results of a CT scan. His status for the remainder of the season was uncertain.
Savannah (27-3) will face Buford at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Armstrong Atlantic State, with a berth in the state title game on the line.
A replay showed that the foul on Cokley was not a dirty play, but emotions were running high in the gym for the rest of the game.
“Once Chris went down, we knew we had to win,” said Savannah’s standout junior Jamal Norman, who scored 16 points. “Chris doesn’t say much, but deep down he is a winner. We knew the only way to satisfy him was by winning this game.”
Everyone in the gym was worried about Cokley as he laid motionless, face down for several minutes under the basket midway through the first quarter.
“I knew something was wrong right away; I was speechless,” Norman said. “After that it became more than a game.”
Washington County stayed in it until the end behind strong performances by A.J. Gray (23 points) and McKel Miller (19 points). The Golden Hawks cut the Savannah lead to 52-49 with about five minutes left after a bank shot by Miller, but Norman and senior Jovante Spivey made big plays down the stretch to seal the victory.
Spivey made an athletic up-and-under move and Norman got a huge putback after two Blue Jackets misses. He followed with a strong baseline drive from the right corner to convert at the rim, extending Savannah’s lead to 58-51 with 3:30 left.
Spivey, who led the Blue Jackets with 18 points, converted eight of nine free throws, making all seven from the line in the second half.
“Spivey and Norman have been doing it for us all year,” Jordan said. “We’ve come to expect that from them.”
Cokley’s backups – Josh Young and Tyreese Rivers – made solid contributions with their play in the post, combining for nine points.
“We always talk about being ready when your number is called,” Jordan said. “Rivers and Young were ready and played a big part in this win.”
Sophomore shooting guard Jermaine Williams also played a vital role scoring all 11 of his points in the first half to keep the Blue Jackets in it.
After the game, Jordan and his assistants went to the hospital to visit Cokley.
“That’s the worst thing I’ve seen in my career,” Jordan said of seeing his player on the floor. “I was in shock like everyone else when he wasn’t moving. I thought it might have been a flagrant foul. We knew they were going to be physical, he just got undercut and landed on his head.”
The Washington County team was concerned for its safety after the game and didn’t board its bus until the gym had been cleared. There was a police presence to make sure the Golden Hawks got out of the gym without any problems.
Washington County coach Carlos Hope said there was no intent to hurt Cokley.
“Of course it was accidental,” Hope said. “We would never teach a player to play that way. We congratulate Savannah High on the win and wish them the best of luck in the Final Four.”