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February 21, 2013

State playoffs: Tall order too much for Dalton boys basketball

David missed on this shot at Goliath.

Dalton High School’s boys basketball team fell short in its bid to upset fourth-ranked Marist in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament, losing 71-42 Wednesday night at the Cats Den.

The Catamounts (19-8) — the No. 2 seed from Region 7 — went 3-for-16 (18.7 percent) from behind the 3-point line and 17-for-42 (40.4 percent) from the field against the War Eagles (22-4), the No. 3 seed from what looks to be a very tough Region 6. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Class 4A poll, Marist is ranked fourth behind fellow region members South Atlanta (No. 2) and Columbia (No. 3).

Dalton coach Mike Duffie wasn’t disappointed in the effort of his team, even if the execution wasn’t what it needed to be.

“We needed to have an A-plus game to have a chance,” he said. “We graded out maybe a B. We battled. We defended about as well as we could defend. We didn’t shoot well.”

Marist — which had a starting lineup packed with players taller than 6 feet — also outrebounded the Cats 38-18 and gave itself the chance at second shots, something the Cats had hoped to avoid.

“They had 20 offensive rebounds,” Duffie pointed out. “That was the stat of the night.”

Rico Mears’ 10-point effort led the Cats against the Atlanta private school.

“We thought that we had a chance to beat them,” Mears said. “They’re by far the best team that we’ve played this year.”

Demond Rucker — at 6-4, Dalton’s tallest player — added nine points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.

“They were a good team,” Rucker said.

“We made a lot of silly mistakes, which hurt us.”

Marist’s Quinton Stephens, a 6-8 point guard who has signed with Georgia Tech, finished with a game-high 19 points. Like the rest of Marist’s starters, he was on the bench in the fourth quarter.

Cameron Wiley, a sophomore point guard, came off the bench to score 15 for the War Eagles, while guard Bobby Perez tallied nine.

Although David Onuorah tallied only eight points, the 6-8 performer displayed enough talent to show why he is headed to Cornell University to play next year. Greg Taboada — a 6-5, 240-pounder who mainly set screens and played rugged defense against the Cats — is bound to Stanford University as a tight end in football.

A dozen War Eagles scoring provided evidence of Marist’s depth.

“(Duffie) coached them hard,” Marist coach Greg McClaire said. “We don’t think of ourselves as a blowout squad. We were trying to do some new things. I’d give us maybe a C-plus grade for this game.”

Marist took a 6-0 lead to start, and with a conservative approach on offense, the Cats didn’t score until Mears’ field goal with 2:39 left in the first quarter. The War Eagles led 15-4 after the first quarter, but when the Cats’ Brandon Painter made back-to-back 3-pointers in the next period, Dalton cut its deficit to 21-15.

“The game turned with 1:32 left in the half,” Duffie said. “We were trailing 28-21 and we were at the free-throw line with a one-and-one. We could have cut it to five. We missed the free throw. The next thing I know, we’re down by 14 at the half.”

Trailing 35-21 to start the third quarter, the Cats scored five unanswered points to move within nine, and an exchange of baskets made the count 37-28.

Marist dominated the remainder of the quarter, 15-2, to carry an insurmountable 52-30 advantage into the final eight minutes. The War Eagles’ lead twice reached 30 points.

“In their region, they’re playing against people their size in every game,” Duffie said. “We don’t have that kind of size in our region.”

Eight seniors suited up in red and white for the final time — Alex Bautista, Cole Calfee, Karey Dills, Jackson Dinges, Robert Enck, Mears, Painter and Rucker.

 “We lose all of our starters who are seniors,” Duffie said. “The house is empty. There are a lot of opportunities for other people.”

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