OAKWOOD — The Flowery Branch boys basketball team made sure it was known Tuesday night that their attitude is team-first, both on and off the court.
After rallying in the fourth quarter to beat West Hall on the road 80-71, the Falcons took an interesting approach to their post-game interviews. Not wanting to single out any player, they decided to field questions as a team, with every player wanting to chime in on every question.
Falcons coach Todd Cottrell could only sit back and watching, laughing and shaking his head.
"We are all best friends," junior Izaan Cross said from the back row. "We are just a big family."
To help reduce the confusion, the team named senior Chad Kenton as the team spokesman.
It was fitting because he seemed the happiest player on the team.
"It’s a beautiful day," Kenton said before the first question was asked.
The Falcons had reason to be feeling good.
The win against the Spartans came three days after Flowery Branch lost to White County in overtime.
The Falcons game against West Hall, their first subregion game, could easily have gone the other way, with the Spartans leading by as much as much as nine points in the third quarter.
Down 59-55 after three quarters, Flowery Branch (11-2, 1-0 Region 7B-AAA) outscored the Spartans 25-12 in the final quarter to get the win and momentum heading into the regular season’s home stretch.
"We gutted out a win tonight," Cottrell said. "West Hall played outstanding. You have to give them a lot of credit. I was proud of the way our guys came together. To win on the road in this subregion is huge. It was key."
The Falcons were led by junior guard Josh Barrett, who scored 19 points and hit two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help his team pull away from the Spartans.
Cross put together a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Tracy Sykes scored 15 points, but his biggest contribution came from the free-throw line. He hit 9-of-12 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Both teams got their chances at the free-throw line Tuesday night in a game that seemed to have a foul every possession.
In the first half, the Falcons committed 19 team fouls and West Hall committed 10. The Spartans (6-6, 0-1) shot 23 foul shots to Flowery Branch’s eight.
"We were a little too active with our hands," Cottrell said. "We made the adjustments we needed to."
Roles reversed in the second half. West Hall had 18 team penalties to Flowery Branch’s six. The Falcons were 17-of-32 from the free-throw line in the second half.
"If you miss, you run," Barrett said after the game. "That’s why I’m shooting like 25 percent."
The Falcons spent so much time at the free-throw line the fourth quarter, West Hall couldn’t get to the basket. The Spartan’s fourth quarter was it’s lowest-scoring of the game.
"It was a hard-fought ball game against a very talented team," West Hall coach Warren Sellers said. "We didn’t execute as well in the fourth quarter. ... We had a couple of critical turnovers that didn’t go our way. We didn’t take advantage of some of our free throw opportunities, either."
The Spartans hit 14-of-23 free throws in the first half.
After the game, Sellers wasn’t worried about his team’s attitude. He was actually encouraged by what he saw Tuesday night.
"That is only the first (subregion) game," he said. "There are nine to go. Our kids have some heart. They played really hard. We were able to match their intensity. They are resilient."
Nobody in Flowery Branch’s locker room was worried about team morale. The team could be heard cheering from outside the gym.
"This is a credit to their character," Cottrell said. "We are getting better each game, but we still have a long way to go."
In their excitement, the Flowery Branch players kept repeating "Shalumba," claiming it was their team cheer.
No coach or player was able to explain what it meant.
The Falcons play host to Johnson on Friday; West Hall visits Gainesville on Friday.
West Hall girls 45, Flowery Branch 39
The Lady Spartans fought to catch up with the Lady Falcons for three quarters, finally catching Flowery Branch in the fourth.
The lead changed hands seven times in the final quarter alone with three ties.
Kim Smigelsky led West Hall with 17 points and Bailey Soucie scored 10 points, including two 3-pointers.
Molly May led Flowery Branch with 10 points.
The Lady Falcons lost their main inside threat when Jessica Hart got into foul trouble early in the game. She finished with eight points.
Kayla Smith also scored eight points.
The Lady Falcons play host to Johnson on Friday and West Hall will travel to Gainesville on Friday.