With the rest of the Dalton State College lineup retreating after a missed shot, Sean Tate ran the other way, intercepting a lazy pass from Hiwassee College
Tate earned a trip to the free-throw line and made both with 4:16 to play for a 55-35 Road-runners lead.
Scenes like those — and there were quite a few — should give Hiwassee the shivers.
Dalton State’s men’s basketball team forced 18 turnovers Thursday at the trade center in the program’s first home game since relaunching athletics, winning 68-46 over their opponents from Madisonville, Tenn., to stay undefeated four games into the season.
“We just felt like we could get some turnovers,” Dalton State coach Tony Ingle said. “We didn’t do it much but at the right time. It gave us some energy. Our players were tight. With a big game, they wanted to do well. The press we did I think got them back to playing basketball.”
Tate’s play was one of seven team steals and part of a 13-2 run in the second half that clinched the game for the Roadrunners, who played in front of a sellout crowd celebrating the return of college basketball to the city. In 1978, Dalton Junior College ended its program.
Dalton State forced the end of a lot of Hiwassee possessions.
The teams were tied 13-13 more than halfway through the first half, but after Anthony Hilliard’s field goal gave the Roadrunners the lead, Dylan Smith intercepted a pass and converted a layup for a 17-13 lead. That play began the Roadrunners’ first spurt, which ended when Preston Earle recorded a steal and Smith sank a 3-pointer for a 23-13 lead and Hiwassee timeout with 4:42 before halftime.
Often times the team’s guards — like Tate, Earle and Smith — were trapping perimeter ball handlers for Hiwassee (1-4) immediately after crossing half court, forcing errant passes.
“They trapped us and triple teamed us some, and we didn’t get out of the traps,” Hiwassee coach Hugh Watson said. “We threw the ball away a lot.”
Even when Dalton State didn’t force a turnover, Hiwassee struggled getting uncontested shots. The Tigers made just 27.9 percent (17 of 61) of their shots in the first half as the Roadrunners led 27-15 at halftime.
The win was the first comfortable one of the young season for the Roadrunners, who beat Spring Hill College 69-66, Belhaven University 79-73 and Southern Wesleyan University 97-95 in overtime. The latter was Tuesday.
This was the first of three games in as many days for Dalton State, which takes its undefeated record on the road today at 6 p.m. in Athens, Tenn., against Tennessee Wesleyan College and plays Saturday at 2 p.m. in Dayton, Tenn., versus Bryan College.
“We have four games this week and only had one practice to cram everything in,” Tate said. “So we spent a lot of time working on defense. ... That’s the identity coach Ingle wants us to play. He wants us to play with a high level on defense.”
Like in the previous three wins, Dalton State did a lot of damage with 3-pointers. The Roadrunners made eight of those shots, with three of Ricky Sears’ team-high 16 points coming from a 3-pointer which gave Dalton State a 32-15 lead early in the second half.
Earle made one on the next possession for a 35-17 advantage.
In the first half, Dalton State shot 32.4 percent (12 of 37) from the field but made half of its 28 shots in the second half and 6 of 11 3-point attempts after halftime.
“We really didn’t put two halves together,” Ingle said, “and that’s what we’re working on.”