While the game went the requisite four quarters, both teams only played three quarters when the GMC Prep and Hancock Central boys basketball teams met on the hardcourt Tuesday night.
It was the Bulldogs from Sparta (12-2 overall, 5-0 region), however, who performed better in the quarters that counted more. They were down big after the opening period, but bounced back to outscore GMC Prep (8-3 overall, 4-2 region) 54-37 in the final three to take the Region 7-A showdown 60-55.
“I’m very proud of the guys,” GMC Prep head coach James Lunsford said. “We played well, but we haven’t played well the last few minutes in all of our 11 games. We’re not taking good shots in the fourth quarter or taking care of the ball. In our last two or three games we’ve failed to get the stops we’ve needed to at the end.”
Scoring was slow to start as the host Bulldogs held a narrow 6-4 lead with two minutes to go in the first. They took advantage of a lengthy Hancock Central scoring drought though and managed to close out the frame on a 12-2 run helped along by threes off the hands of Jabari Dixon and junior transfer Preston Kent. His two from deep, especially one where he crossed up his defender, ignited the packed Cordell Events Center crowd. Kent was feeling it all throughout the first half on his way to a 23-point night.
The second quarter was the visitors’ time to answer though. Down 18-6 to start, they quickly closed that sizable gap in only about three minutes’ time as they got to within one point at the 4:52 mark. Kent splashed home his fourth 3-pointer of the first half to keep his team up though as the host ‘Dogs took a 34-29 lead into the break.
The offense that had been there early for GMC Prep just wasn’t there in the second half. Hancock clamped down on Kent, giving him almost no room to get any shots off while other players’ attempts went begging. The Bulldogs of nearby Sparta pressed all night long and while it was handled well by the home team early, it clearly had a wear-down effect as GMC turned the ball over more and more as the game went along. The lead changed hands a couple times at the end of the third, and it was Hancock who would seize it entering the fourth quarter up 47-45. The visitors would go on to stretch their lead out as far as seven points in the deciding period before leaving Milledgeville with the five-point region win.
Lunsford wasn't too surprised about the effort from his roster made up of players who are either young, inexperienced or just hasn’t spent that much on-the-court time together.
“This is about what I expected, to be honest,” the veteran head coach said. “We’ve won more games than I thought we would have. We’re 8-3, but we’ve got to learn how to play as a team. It might take us until the last of this year or the start of next year to become a team. When you play great teams you can’t make the mistakes we’re making. I just think as time passes hopefully we can deal with the injuries and the team development. If we can do that, we’ll execute better at the end of games. If we can’t, we’ll have trouble the rest of this year.”
The result marked the GMC Prep boys’ second region loss after losing at Warren County last weekend. They will have a chance to redeem themselves Saturday at Aquinas and again Tuesday at Greene County. The Bulldogs will be back on the Cordell Events Center floor Friday, Jan. 17 against Washington-Wilkes.
Hancock Central, meanwhile, will put its perfect region record up against Aquinas Friday in Sparta.