December 3, 2013

Preston Earle's 3-pointer is buzzer-beater for Dalton State

On a night when leading scorer Ricky Sears struggled to find the basket early, Preston Earle picked up the slack throughout the game and hit the clutch shot late.

Earle buried a fall-away, 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Dalton State College’s men’s basketball team to an 80-79 victory over Marietta’s Southern Polytechnic State University at the trade center Monday night.

“We were in the huddle and coach (Tony) Ingle said we needed a big shot from somebody,” said Earle, who finished with a game-high 29 points and also pulled down nine rebounds. “We didn’t execute the play exactly right, so I just popped out and made a shot and made a play. I knew I had to get a shot up. I got it up and got a good look and hit it.”

Southern Poly’s Ricky Fuller had a chance to ice the game for the Hornets with a pair of free throws with 13.2 seconds remaining, but he missed both. Dalton State (10-1) got the ball to midcourt and called its final timeout before setting up the game’s final play with 7.5 seconds left.

The Roadrunners planned a screen to set up Sears, who was intended to get the ball from point guard Sean Tate. When that didn’t happen, Earle popped to the top of the key, faked a drive, pulled up and hit the game-winner. The shot sent an explosion of sound through the trade center after the Roadrunners had seemingly blown a 13-point first-half lead.

“Not exactly the way that you plan it, but it worked,” Ingle said. “That play could have been either/or. It could have been either Ricky or Preston. ‘Either’ wasn’t there, so Sean found the ‘or.’ Preston made it.”

It was clear early in the game that Sears was struggling with his rhythm and Southern Poly was concentrating on taking him out of his comfort zone. Midway through the first half, Sears, who entered the game averaging 16.8 points, had just two.

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