By Chris Whitfield
Heading into its first break of the season after playing 11 games in less than a month, Dalton State College’s men’s basketball team was ready to get home for Thanksgiving.
And on Tuesday, the Roadrunners played like they had somewhere else to be.
However, despite giving away most of a 16-point first-half lead, they still found a way to head into the break with another victory after holding off Auburn-Montgomery 75-68 at the trade center.
“They were on the interstate already,” Dalton State coach Tony Ingle said. “They thought the game was over at halftime, and I had to give them a little piece of my mind at halftime. We haven’t come out at halftime focused the last few games.”
The Roadrunners are 9-1 in the program’s first season in more than three decades, with the only blemish on their record a two-point defeat at Tennessee Wesleyan on Nov. 8. Dalton State, a non-conference member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, also lost 85-61 to NCAA Division I program Jacksonville State this past Friday in an exhibition that didn’t count against either team’s record.
The Roadrunners’ win ruined the homecoming of former Dalton High School standout Tristen Harrell, The Daily Citizen’s 2011-12 All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year. The Warhawks sophomore guard scored five points and had four rebounds in limited action off the bench.
“It’s fun to be able to play in front of so many familiar faces,” Harrell said.
With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, the Roadrunners took a 36-21 lead on a three-point play by Demetrice Jacobs. However, the Warhawks (3-6) scored the last two baskets of the first half and the first four of the second half to cut the lead to 36-34.
For the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Roadrunners and Warhawks went blow-for-blow, although Auburn-Montgomery never got closer than a bucket. Preston Earle’s putback basket started an 8-1 run for the Roadrunners, who finally had some breathing room.
From there, they never led by less than four points and hit four 3-pointers down the stretch to squelch any comeback hopes for the Warhawks.
“We just came out slow and sluggish,” said Dalton State guard Ricky Sears, who finished with a game-high 26 points. “We won, but we are not happy with the win. We should have played a better game, especially on defense. A lot of people were ready to go home and we just lost focus.”
The Roadrunners took advantage of Auburn-Montgomery guard Brett Person’s early foul trouble. Person picked up his second and third fouls on back-to-back whistles in the first half and Dalton had a 12-0 run during the same stretch to turn a three-point deficit into a 15-6 lead. Strong play in the post by Raheem Mosley stretched the lead to 26-10.
The Warhawks struggled from the field, hitting 9 of 27 shots in the first half and scoring on 1 of 11 3-point attempts. Dalton was 15-for-33 in the first half from the field.
“Dalton shot the ball so well in the first half,” Auburn-Montgomery coach Larry Chapman said. “We didn’t.”
That changed from the start of the second half.
“Person was back at the half, and when he got into foul trouble that gave us an advantage,” Ingle said. “When he got back in the second half, that gave them an advantage. Having him on the floor in the second half opened things up for them.”
Earle added 12 points for the Roadrunners, while Sears also had nine rebounds.
Dalton State returns to the court Monday, hosting Southern Polytechnic State University.