February 6, 2014

Bailey, Bruins pick up down-to-wire win over Cats

TUNNEL HILL — Tanner Bailey remembers watching helplessly from the bench the first time Northwest Whitfield High School’s boys basketball team played Dalton this season during his team’s blowout loss.

He wasn’t on the bench at the end of Thursday’s rivalry rematch. The senior was on the court standing at the free throw line, cool and confident.

Bailey sank two important free throws to give Northwest a three-point lead after Dalton missed two free throws to potentially take a late lead. Dalton’s ensuing 3-point attempt was no good, and the Bruins earned a 58-55 win on senior night, a season split against their intracounty rivals and at least a share of the Sub-region 7B-4A championship.

With Dalton (16-6, 7-2 Sub-region 7B-4A) trailing 56-55 in what had been a back-and-forth game all night, the Catamounts’ Jeffrey Brown earned a trip to the foul line. He missed one, Northwest (15-10, 8-2) called timeout and Brown missed the second. Bailey grabbed the rebound, was immediately fouled and made the most of his two shots.

“I just took a breath and took my time,” he said.

Dalton called timeout twice — once after Bailey’s second free throw and once after the Cats crossed half court. Emier Bowman received an inbound pass with two seconds left, then turned and fired a shot that was straight enough but bounced off the rim.

Northwest’s regular season is over and the Bruins now wait for Dalton to play Ridgeland tonight. If the Cats win, Dalton coach Mike Duffie and Bruins coach Ryan Richards will flip a coin for the No. 1 seed for the Region 7-4A tournament, which starts Saturday. If Dalton loses, Northwest earns the top seed and the outright sub-region title.

Free throws were crucial Thursday night. Dalton made 14 of 33 attempts at the line. Northwest made 14 of 25.

“They hit enough late and we didn’t,” Duffie said. “... I’ve told them all year, ‘You can’t win championships without free throws.’”

Dalton’s Braxton Thomas tied the game at 52 on a three-point play with 2:03 left, then put the Catamounts ahead 53-52 with a free throw with 1:22 left. Tevin McDaniel made two free throws on the other end for a 54-53 Northwest edge, but Bowman converted a layup to push Dalton back in front.

Bailey made a bank shot with 24 seconds left to give Northwest a 56-55 lead, setting up the final moments.

“We missed a bunch (of free throws) in the middle stretch of the game,” Richards said. “I was worried. Tanner Bailey had a bad turnover earlier in the quarter and we took him out to calm him down. For him to go back out there and make those two free throws to really give us the win was huge.”

Bailey and teammate Caleb Storey didn’t play in the first matchup, an 83-52 Cats win in Dalton on Jan. 10. Both were serving suspensions.

This time they played and made a big difference. Storey led Northwest with 19 points, including two 3-pointers to start the second half. Dalton led 32-30 at halftime, but Storey’s two shots, Caleb Branson’s steal-and-layup and Cyrus Addison’s layup put Northwest ahead 40-32. Dalton trailed 45-41 entering the final quarter and didn’t regain the lead until Thomas’ drive to the basket put the Cats ahead 47-46 around the five-minute mark.

Dalton had foul woes in the third quarter. One Northwest possession included four Dalton fouls and the Cats were called for their 10th foul — putting Northwest in the double bonus the rest of the game — with 35 seconds left in the third quarter. Duffie said that didn’t affect the Cats’ aggressive defense, which forced 19 turnovers to the Bruins’ 13.

“(The refs) were seeing fouls,” Duffie said.

Northwest’s first-half lead was as large as seven — the Bruins went ahead 21-14 on Levi Mosteller’s 3-pointer with 4:38 remaining before halftime. Dalton grabbed a 28-27 lead — its first since a 5-3 edge in the first quarter — on Mark Sims’ basket.

Bowman finished with 18 points for Dalton, while Thomas added 17 and Sims had 13.

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