FLOWERY BRANCH — The Flowery Branch Falcons overcame a lot during the season.
They rebounded after a pair of three-game losing streaks, and they grabbed the No. 3 seed in the subregion despite playing without one of their best players, Kanler Coker, for the second half of the season after the senior graduated early.
But they couldn’t overcome a poor shooting night.
Region 8-AAAA North No. 6-seed Madison County rallied for a 53-48 win at Flowery Branch High on Friday night in the opening round of the region tournament, holding the Falcons to just two 3-pointers in the game and just nine points in the final quarter and finishing the Flowery Branch season.
“It just kind of replicated what our year was like,” Falcons coach Duke Mullis said. “Anybody could beat anybody.
“I think seeding meant less than in any tournament that I’ve been apart of.”
Indeed, Flowery Branch (12-14, 5-5 8-AAAA North) and Madison County (9-17, 4-6) were separated by just one game in the final subregion standings, and the two teams split in the regular season. The Red Raiders came in having lost five straight, while the Falcons had lost three of four.
In their third meeting of the year, Flowery Branch led by as much as eight early in the fourth quarter, but could not make shots or free throws down the stretch. The Falcons hit just 1 of 4 from the free-throw line in the final quarter and were 6 of 12 overall. Madison County finished 16 of 22 from the free-throw line, including 12 of 15 in the fourth.
“We had a lot of breakdowns in the fourth quarter, and the next thing you know it’s a new ball game,” Mullis said. “We missed a lot of shots that we normally make. It could be the pressure, it could be fatigue.”
Flowery Branch last led 47-46 with 4:10 remaining on a layup by junior Jamaad Stephens, who led all scorers with 19 points. Madison County’s Trey Carruth (11 points) tied the score moments later on a free throw and hit a go-ahead free throw soon after as Madison County closed the game on a 7-1 run. The Red Raiders outscored the Falcons 20-9 in the final quarter and will play Salem at 2 p.m. Monday.
North No. 5 Winder-Barrow defeated No. 4 Clarke Central in the earlier tournament game Friday at Flowery Branch.
While this season is over earlier than he would like, Mullis was pleased with the team’s performance over the course of the season.
“I’m as proud of this group of guys as anybody in my 25 years of coaching,” Mullis said. “It’s been a roller coaster ride and they’ve had to overcome a lot, but these guys stuck together.
“After a few days I hope they can appreciate what they did this season.”
It was a season that included a third-place finish in the Lanierland Tournament and a five-game winning streak in January that, for a time, put the Falcons at the top of the subregion. But Flowery Branch lost three of its final four region games to fall into the mix with three other teams at 5-5. A No. 2 seed would have resulted in a first-round bye.
Still, for much of the second half it looked like Flowery Branch having to play in the first round wouldn’t hurt.
Prior to the Red Raiders’ fourth-quarter rally, the Falcons worked their way into a lead in the third quarter, taking a 32-26 lead after a Jaleel Bailey 3-point play and then a 39-33 advantage at the end of the quarter after a Bailey 3-point shot. Bailey finished with 17 points.
TJ Skelton led Madison County with 13 points, including three 3-pointers and 11 points in the first half.