DAWSONVILLE — Making the most out of every possession is key to any successful basketball team. Just ask the Union County Panthers.
The eighth-ranked team in Class AA didn’t turn the ball over once and shot a blistering 61 percent in the second quarter to build a 16-point lead and roll to a 54-32 win over Dawson County on Friday night in Dawsonville.
“We’ve been getting on a roll like that,” Union County coach David Tucker said. “We played well against a good team. We came ready to play.”
Leading by eight at the end of the first quarter, Union County (14-0, 2-0 Region 8A-AA) played nearly flawless basketball in the second period. Showing extreme patience on offense, the Panthers made eight of their 13 shot attempts and went on a 10-0 run to end the half and take a commanding 37-21 lead.
“They were zoned in,” Dawson County coach Thad Burgess said. “I’ve never seen anyone do that to our zone.”
Despite tracking the ball well on defense, the Tigers (11-5, 1-3) had no answer for the quickness of the Panthers, who made 5 of 11 3-point attempts in the first half. Trey Thomas, who scored 14 points and made three of his four 3-point attempts, led Union County.
Peter Danek added 11 points for the Panthers, who shot 48 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3-point range.
That’s an outstanding percentage considering the fact that Union County had lost its last seven games in Dawsonville.
Then again, the Panthers are a completely different team this year following a season in which they won only two games.
“It’s just defense and hustle,” said Tucker, who’s in his first season at Union County. “We were everywhere; we contested every shot.”
That hustle, combined with a 10-player rotation, has Burgess convinced that the Panthers’ turnaround has a lot to do with their new coach.
“He’s done a great job,” Burgess said of his coaching counterpart. “There’s no doubt who the best team was tonight.
“They were fundamentally super.”
Thanks in large part to the Panthers’ stifling defense, the Tigers shot just 27 percent from the floor and missed 21 of their 28 3-point attempts. Tyler Dominy led the Tigers with 13 points.
Burgess was so impressed by the Panthers that he thinks they have a strong chance to contend with East Hall for the region championship.
“I didn’t think anyone could touch East Hall,” Burgess said. “But (Union County) handled everything we threw at them. I feel a lot better about Union County’s chances, but I still think East Hall has a chance to win the state title.”
Union County hosts East Hall on Tuesday, but Tucker isn’t concerning himself with the Vikings just yet.
“I no nothing about East Hall,” he said. “Right now, we’re just focusing on Fannin County.”
Union County visits Fannin County at 7:30 tonight, while Dawson County visits Gilmer at 5:30 p.m. today.
UNION COUNTY GIRLS 60, DAWSON COUNTY 54: With her team holding onto a three-point lead, Union County’s Holli Abernathy hit two free throws with 22 seconds left to seal the win.
Abernathy finished with 13 points, which was second on the team to only Becka Merrit, who finished with 17.
Allie Costley scored a team-high 17 points for Dawson County. Carly Gilreath added 14 points for the Lady Tigers.
Dawson County visits Gilmer at 4 p.m. today. Union County (8-6, 2-0) travels to Fannin County at 6 tonight.