The Dawson County boys basketball team plays a unique style of defense, the 2-3 matchup zone.
It’s a defense that keeps scores low, and the games slow. Monday night the strategy paid off as Dawson County ground out a 58-45 win over East Jackson at East Hall High. The Tigers advance to the second round of the Region 8-AA tournament where they’ll face Elbert County at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Gainesville with a trip to the state playoffs at stake.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Dawson County coach Thad Burgess said. “I thought East Jackson played one of their better games. But at this time of year any win is a good win.”
The zone defense did its part, keeping the Eagles (6-20) from being able to run the floor at will and allowing Dawson County to score in the 50s, which is their target.
On offense, the Tigers (20-6) slowed the pace further, driving into the lane and finding the free-throw line often.
“It’s something we do three to four times a day at practice, because whether or not you win can come down to free throws,” said Dawson County junior Will Anglin, who led all scorers with 16 points.
The Tigers were 18 of 31 from the free-throw line, significant not as much in the percentage converted but in the total number — East Jackson was perfect from the line, but went just six times.
The matchup zone is partly to blame.
“It’s something that nobody else plays, so it can be a surprise for teams,” Burgess said. “It cuts down on our fouls, and it allows us to take some of the clock time.”
And, like a football team holding a lead, burning clock late can come in handy, especially for a team without a lot of depth, Burgess said.
Of course it takes players to run a defense, and Burgess is proud of his team, which returned just one starter off of last year’s squad.
“I’m really proud of what they did,” Burgess said. “That’s 20 wins; that’s a big deal for us.”
The Eagles prevented Dawson County from celebrating their 20th win too early, but the Tigers still led from start to finish, opening on 3-pointer from Tyler Dominy (13 points) and closing on a pair of free throws by Anglin with 1:07 remaining.
Gunnar Armstrong added 13 points for the Tigers and Bruce Clark scored 10 as four players accounted for all but four points of the Dawson County scoring.
East Jackson was led by Nathan Crumley with 11 points.
The Tigers still need one more win to get back to state for the fifth time in six years and the first time since 2010. And Burgess knows it won’t be easy, citing the Blue Devils’ length and athleticism.
But the Tigers are one game away, and in the region tournament, that’s all that matters.
“It’s pretty great,” Anglin said. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work and it’s paid off.”
BANKS COUNTY BOYS 54, JACKSON COUNTY 43: Taylor Foster scored 18 to lead the Leopards into the second round of the Region 8-AA Tournament on Monday at East Hall High.
Banks County (12-14) will play Jefferson at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Gainesville in the quarterfinals, with the winner clinching a spot in the state tournament.
The Leopards also snapped a five-game losing streak which had dropped them to the No. 4 seed in the North heading into the tournament.
“We were 4-1 in the region at one point, but we had lost five in a row and our heads were down,” Banks County coach Mike Cleveland said. “It was good for these guys to right the ship a bit.”
Clayton Martin added 10 points, eight in the final quarter, and seven rebounds for the Leopards, who finished 15 of 20 from the free throw line.
Jared Scott led all scorers with 20 points for Jackson County and Kolin Zimmer added 10, but the Panthers couldn’t complete a rally in the final minutes, despite scoring the game’s final eight points.
Jackson County’s season is now complete.