February 23, 2014

No offense: Cats go out early in 4A basketball tournament

Chris Whitfield
chriswhitfield@daltoncitizen.com

TYRONE — Dalton High School’s boys basketball team knew its margin for error was slim in the opening round of the Class 4A state tournament.

Facing higher-seeded Sandy Creek — the 10th-ranked team in the Atlanta Journal-Consti-tution’s Class 4A poll — on its home court Satur-day, the Cata-mounts were a-ware they couldn’t allow mistakes or missed shots on their end of the floor to translate into points on the other end.

But knowing something and doing it are two different things, and Sandy Creek seemed to take advantage of all of the Cats’ misfires while rolling to a 67-40 victory that ended Dalton’s season.

“We knew coming in that we couldn’t miss free throws and we had to convert on our opportunities at the basket,” Cats coach Mike Duffie said. “We were getting what (the shots) we wanted, but every little mistake turned into points on the other end.”

Sandy Creek (21-8), the No. 2 seed from Region 5, advances to the second round and will take on Johnson-Gainesville, which beat Stone Mountain 83-71 on Saturday. Dalton (19-9), the Region 7 No. 3 seed, was in the state tournament for the third straight year but lost in the opening round for the second time in a row.

The Cats began the game in a methodical half-court offense, using cutters and screens to counter Sandy Creek’s man-to-man de-fense. It worked as the shorter Dalton guards were able to get driving buckets high off of the glass when they made it to the basket.

Defensively, Dalton stayed in a spread zone to push the Patriots’ perimeter players further away. It worked, but Sandy Creek was able to hit enough on the perimeter, finishing 7 of 25 from beyond the 3-point line.

“I saw Dalton play at Cass (in the region tournament) and really thought they would throw a little more of their pressure in their trapping press at us,” Sandy Creek coach Willie Reese said. “We had worked on that but what they threw at us took us out of our game early.”

Dalton led 6-5 midway through the first quarter as it controlled the pace and shortened the game by patiently running its offense. But four trips down the floor yielded a pair of missed shots and two turnovers. Sandy Creek converted on each opportunity to surge ahead 13-6 and Javon Jackson hit a 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter for a 16-7 lead.

“We knew coming into this season that playing in the half court was not our strong suit,” Duffie said. “They just aren’t built for that, and we don’t have the athletes to press them all night long. (Sandy Creek) is a team that is going to (reach the state quarterfinals) and maybe a little more. We had our opportunities, but we made those mistakes we couldn’t afford to make.”

Midway through the second quarter, the Patriots began making three 3-pointers. They led 29-13 at halftime.

“We have to make our 3s, and we shot the ball just well enough to get a little cushion,” Reese said.

Dalton’s leading scorer, junior forward Emier Bowman, was held scoreless in the first half and finished with just 11 points.

“Hats off to coach Duffie for having a good plan in the first half,” Reese said. “They took us out of our game offensively, but our defense was able to do a really good job of taking some things away from them in the first half.”

A 9-2 run by the Patriots to start the second half pushed the lead out to 23 points, and Dalton didn’t seriously challenge the rest of the way. Brandon Lindsey and Janauri Smith each had 12 points as Sandy Creek’s scoring was spread around, while Jalen Hill added 11.

Braxton Thomas added nine for the Cats, who will lose seniors Jeffrey Brown, Nathan Bryant, Tristen Darville, Thomas Delay and Lyle Durham.

“This was a great year for this group of seniors,” Duffie said. “Getting 19 wins is a great accomplishment for this team, and that senior class was full of leaders from the starters to the players sitting on the bench.”