JEFFERSON — The Banks County Lady Leopards’ tough region served them well in the opening round of the Class AAA state basketball tournament.
Down 2-0 early against the No. 2 seed Jefferson Lady Dragons, the Lady Leopards rattled off 9-0 run and never looked back.
The third-seeded Lady Leopards (23-5) advance to round two after a 52-44 road win over the Lady Dragons (21-7). They play at Beach High School in Savannah on Friday.
Kaitlyn Duncan scored a game-high 23 points, including 14 in the third quarter. Allison Smith added nine points, all of which came in the second half.
“It was a huge win for our program,” Banks County head coach Jerry King said. “I was really proud of the girls.
“They came out and played hard from the get-go and played hard to the end. That’s all I can ever ask them to do. This team does that. They have a really good chemistry and just play hard.”
Duncan scored six points in the opening quarter as the Lady Leopards opened up an 11-3 lead. The Lady Dragons responded in the second quarter outscoring the Lady Leopards 9-4 and the deficit was three (15-12) at halftime. Five Lady Dragons scored in the second quarter.
Duncan scored the Lady Leopards’ opening six points in the third quarter en route to 14 points. She hit eight free throws in the quarter as well.
“That’s the name of our (Banks County) game,” King said about Duncan’s performance. “She’s our anchor. She (does) a good job in the state tournament of anchoring us.
“So we expect her to play big in big games. She’s a big player. Play big in big games and that’s what she did.”
Smith connected on a buzzer-beating jump shot to close the third quarter and give the Lady Leopards a 38-30 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Duncan and Smith combined for eight of the team’s 14 fourth-quarter points.
Jefferson was led by Abbie Franklin’s 20 points. She scored 16 in the second half, including two 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter, which cut the Lady Leopards’ lead to seven (51-44) with under a minute to play. But the rally was too late.
“We picked a bad night to play bad,” Jefferson head coach Jason Gibson said.
“Some of what Banks County does to you in terms of the run-and-jumps and the pressure that they put on you, it forces you into situations that you normally don’t have to be in.
“I don’t feel like our kids played very well offensively. I thought we shot the ball awful. We didn’t even take a lot of threes. We missed so many point-blank layups that we didn’t deserve to win the basketball game playing the way we played.”