February 20, 2013

Prep basketball: Mountaineers, Cats face different tasks in different brackets

The boys basketball teams at Dalton High School and North Murray High School are both hosting tonight in the first round of their respective state tournaments, and they’re facing vastly different foes.

Dalton welcomes Atlanta’s Marist to the Cats Den in a Class 4A game, while North Murray welcomes Hart County in 3A competition.

Both games tip off at 6 p.m.

Each home team is the No. 2 seed for its region — Dalton from 7-4A and North Murray from 5-3A — and face No. 3 seeds tonight. However, Marist enters ranked as the No. 4 team in its class by The Atlanta Journal Constitution after finishing behind second-ranked South Atlanta and defending champions and third-ranked Columbia in a tough Region 6.

“They are one of the top five teams in the state, and they are a No. 3 seed in name only,” Dalton coach Mike Duffie said. “They have been playing teams that are at the top of the rankings all year. They lost to Columbia in overtime and by two points, and they split with South Atlanta. This isn’t your typical No. 3 seed.”

Dalton (19-7) has played and won with quickness and solid defense this season, but the Catamounts don’t have the one thing Marist is blessed with — height.

“In the paint they are 6-foot-10, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-8, and they have a 6-5 guard,” Duffie said. “You need to know any more?”

Marist (21-4) lost twice this season to Columbia — once by a basket in overtime and by a point in the other meeting — split with South Atlanta and suffered its other loss at the hands of Class 6A’s Archer.

“They will be one of the most talented teams we have seen since last year at Columbia,” said Duffie, whose team lost Columbia last year in the second round of the Class 3A tournament. “We will definitely be the shortest team they have seen. I don’t think they have played anyone who starts three guys under 6 feet.

“Second-chance baskets will be my biggest concern. I am just worried with their height that they will have six or seven shots each time down the floor.”

As a result, fundamental rebounding will be key for the Cats.

That, and hitting open shots consistently.

“We definitely will have to knock down the shots and take good shots,” Duffie said. “You would think that we would want to press them, but the more shots we take, the more shots it creates for them. It is going be tough. Patience will be a big key for us. We have to get in our half-court set and do what we can do.”

While Marist looks like a juggernaut, North Murray (21-7) is playing a team with a losing record. Hart County’s Bulldogs (13-15) claimed the No. 3 seed from their region after beating Elbert County 61-59 in the consolation game.

North Murray coach Tim Ellis said not to be fooled by Hart County’s record.

“They are very athletic, and they have a deep team and have a lot of bodies,” said Ellis, who led the Mountaineers to their second straight appearance in the state tournament in his first season leading the team. “They have three very good guards. They are a well-coached team. Their record may not be the best, but they play some very good teams in that region. They are not going to be intimidated by a state tournament atmosphere or anything like that.”

North Murray’s Zach Vess leads a senior-dominated team that lost at Jefferson in the first round of last year’s Class 2A state tournament, which came in just the second varsity season for the school.

Vess, a 6-foot-5-inch forward, is averaging 22 points and 15 rebounds per game, while Brady Swilling is averaging 10 points and 8 rebounds.

“We are all healthy now with Brady back at full strength and we are getting a little more confidence in our role players and that gives us a little break,” Ellis said. “Shooting has been a little fickle, but defensively we are doing the things we need to do to keep us in game. We are a senior-heavy team with a lot of experience, so I hope that bodes well.”

Another thing in North Murray’s favor is playing in the friendly confines of the school’s gymnasium. The Mountaineers lost just two games — to Cartersville and Gordon Central — at home all year, finishing 11-2 there.

Ellis said his team has come to expect great support from the community and the student body.

“We’ve been pretty strong at home, and we are hoping for another big crowd,” Ellis said. “I know Dalton and Northwest are playing at home and our students are on winter break, but we hope to have them come out and cheer us on. We aren’t ready for this to be over.”

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