For openers, both teams are separated by only one game and one place in the Region 4-AAAA Div. B standings. Griffin (10-5 overall, 4-3 region), which carries a two-game win streak into the contest, sits fourth, while Spalding (6-6, 3-3), which has lost two in a row, sits fifth in the six-team standings.
Furthermore, they have nearly identical personnel with similar strengths and weaknesses.
That’s the present part surrounding the game.
The past includes a pair of showdowns — the only ones between the two teams in modern times — which took place during the 2008-09 season. Spalding, much to the surprise of many, rallied late to shock Griffin not once but twice, winning 36-34 on Dec. 27, 2008 at Griffin High and 70-68 on Jan. 31, 2009 at Spalding High.
Spalding rallied both times in the second half, the first time from nine points down and the second time from 21 down. Down by as much as nine points in the third quarter during the first meeting, the Jags rallied to take their first lead, 33-31, since early in the first half on a shot by Aramis Jester off a feed from Willie Hamm with 4:32 left to play.
Griffin tied the game, 34-all, on a put back by Azavier Morgan with :52 to play before SHS scored the eventual game-winning points on a basket by Rodney Gilbert with about :30 left to play. Griffin tried two more 3-pointers and a mid-range jumper but couldn’t connect as this one went into the books 36-34 in favor of the Jags.
In the January meeting, Griffin went up by as much as 21 points, 60-39, on a shot by Oscar Moore with about three minutes to play in the third quarter before a defensive rebound and coast-to-coast lay-up by Willie Hamm with :00.5 left in the game capped a 31-8 run by Spalding to give the Jags a 70-68 victory and a sweep of the Bears as a raucous crowd stormed the court in celebration.
Of course, Spalding — which was Class AAA No. 6 state-ranked when the teams met in January 2009 — ended up finishing with a 21-6 record on their way to making the state playoffs for the first time in the school’s modern history. Griffin, meanwhile, posted a 10-14 record and failed to qualify for the state playoffs for the second year in a row.
In short it signaled an official changing of the guard, which lasted for a three-year stretch as the trend continued during the 2009-10 season when Spalding (18-10) qualified for the state playoffs for the second year in a row and Griffin (5-21) didn’t make the state playoff field for the third year in a row and in 2010-11 when Spalding (15-11) finished with a better record than Griffin (10-10) when neither made the state playoff field.
The sweep was shocking at the time because Griffin was coming off many successful seasons, while Spalding was just beginning to find success on the court. However, the tide had actually started to turn the season before when Griffin, which had traditionally traveled deep into the state playoffs, went from a 17-11 record two years prior to a 9-14 mark the year before as it failed to reach the state playoffs. Spalding, meanwhile, which had traditionally struggled, was on the uptick with records of 14-7 in 2006-07 and 13-11 in 2007-08.
That concludes the past part of this article.
Today both teams are two head coaches removed from when they last met. Second-year head coach Prelvis Paster leads Griffin, while former Griffin High-point guard and assistant coach Kemo Spear is in his first year as the head coach at Spalding.
How this pivotal series shapes up Friday and when the teams meet again on Jan. 26 at Spalding is the future part of the equation. Both games will have playoff implications — especially if there is a sweep — as both teams near the Region 4-AAAA Tournament next month. Then there is the good-old fun of a crosstown rivalry where a sweep could even signal an official changing or reclaiming of the guard.
(John Sullivan is the sports editor at the Griffin Daily News.)