Dominated on the glass, fruitless from the field and nearing early foul trouble, the Flowery Branch Lady Falcons had little rhythm entering the second half down by four to Winder-Barrow.
Falcons coach Hazel Hall didn’t need a motivational speech to point out what was wrong.
“I felt like we didn’t play with energy,” said Hall after her team’s 48-38 comeback win on Friday night in Flowery Branch. “When we don’t play with energy and intensity, we’re not very good. It’s like that sometimes, and we were fortunate to pull it out.”
The Lady Falcons caught the spark of energy they needed to erase an 8-point deficit late in the second quarter, outscore the Lady Bulldoggs 34-20 in the second half and win their sixth straight game.
Flowery Branch used an 11-3 run at the end of the third quarter to earn its first significant lead of the night, before holding Winder-Barrow without a field goal in the entire fourth quarter.
Winder-Barrow’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Flowery Branch’s Kierra Knight both led their teams with 13 points.
Flowery Branch (19-3, 11-1 in Region 8-AAAAA) is gaining confidence at just the right time. Friday’s comeback comes after Tuesday’s morale-building victory over county rival Gainesville, which had beaten the Lady Falcons twice this season. The Lady Falcons have won eight of their last nine games, and will finish the regular season by hosting last-place Lanier, which is 1-10 in the region.
But for the Lady Falcons to make a deep run in the Class AAAAA state playoffs, Knight knows her team will have to win the tough and gritty games, no matter what the score is at halftime.
“We’re obviously going to be playing harder teams,” she said, “so it’s something we need to do, to get out and play against adversity.”
Winder-Barrow (13-9, 4-6) used every inch of Nelson-Ododa’s 6-foot-3 frame to give Flowery Branch shooters issues.
The freshman center easily out-boxed the Lady Falcons’ centers for offensive rebounds as she and fellow freshman Latrice Perkins opened up a 13-6 lead early in the second quarter from five field goals.
On the offensive end, Nelson-Ododa made herself a nuisance by driving into the lane and edging just enough contact for a foul. Winder-Barrow reached the bonus with four minutes left in the second quarter.
“Coach said we needed to get (Nelson-Ododa) out of the way, so we need to play hard on her,” Knight said. “She’s younger, and not as strong as Julianne (Sutton), so we tried to get her on her.”
With Sutton, a sophomore, guarding Winder-Barrow’s leading scorer, Flowery Branch opened the second half with two quick layups by Sutton (12 points) and Knight. The latter gave Flowery Branch its first lead since the beginning of the first when Knight’s free throw fell in.
The Lady Bulldoggs answered quickly with a 10-2 run over the next two minutes, but Sutton’s role in the paint quickly became apparent. She sank a layup in transition off an outlet pass from Lexie Sengkhammee before Heather Moore found fellow Lady Falcon Breanna Locke (4 points) to tie the game at 29-all with 67 seconds left in the third. The Lady Falcons shot five consecutive field goals in one stretch to open up an 11-3 hot streak to open the final quarter.
From then on, Hall’s team clamped down on defense, blocking Winder-Barrow shots that had once come easily.
“I thought Lexie stepped up. Kierra did too, so I was proud of the fact that we didn’t get quiet,” Hall said.
Sutton made two wide-open shots from under the basket while combining with three other Falcons scorers to outscore Winder-Barrow by 10 in the final eight minutes, while holding the Lady Bulldoggs without a single field goal.
Sengkhammee made each of her four fourth-quarter foul shots to ice the game.
“I think it gives us a lot of confidence that we’re able to beat everybody, and now we’re feeling good,” Knight said.
FLOWERY BRANCH BOYS 62, WINDER-BARROW 45: To John Mills, making seven 3-pointers against Winder-Barrow on Friday night just felt “natural.” His game-high 29 points, including five treys in the first quarter alone, helped the Falcons (12-11, 5-7 in Region 8-AAAAA) rout the visiting Bulldoggs.
“I was feeling it pretty good,” Mills said after the game. “I came out firing, my range, my feet were set and my shooting was ready. It was always natural.”
Mills scored five straight treys to open the game and help Flowery Branch to a 21-6 lead after eight minutes. Winder-Barrow rattled off five consecutive field goals to cut the lead to two at halftime, but the Falcons put together a 12-0 run to begin the second half, while holding the Bulldoggs (2-20, 0-10) to just one field goal in the third. Mills’ final 3-pointer, wide open from the right edge, gave Flowery Branch a 17-point advantage with a minute left.
The sophomore’s previous season-high was 25 against county rival Gainesville on Jan. 9.
If Flowery Branch wins its season finale, a home game against Lanier, the team will lock up a No. 3 seed in its 8-AAAAA sub-region. Flowery Branch will travel to Lawrenceville for a non-region game against Mountain View before hosting the Longhorns.
Winder-Barrow is on an 8-game losing streak, and hasn’t won since Jan. 6.