Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez scheduled Winder-Barrow twice on the regular-season docket for good reason.
With the margin clinging to single digits for the entirety and trailing 36-35 heading into the final quarter, the Lady Falcons awoke in just enough time to sneak ahead late and hold on to win their home opener 50-43 Tuesday night in Flowery Branch.
The Falcons (6-1) were only 2 of 12 from outside the arc, though their second trey nailed by leading scorer Taniyah Worth in the fourth quarter was exactly what they needed to aid to a pivotal 9-0 run in final two minutes. Worth accounted for seven points down that stretch, including a steal and layup that boosted the lead to seven with 1:35 left.
The last-minute surge came after both teams traded four lead changes.
The victory marks the 12th-straight win for the Falcons against the non-region Bulldoggs. The No. 2 Falcons upset the then Class AAAAAA No. 1 Bulldoggs (1-3) eight days prior in the Jefferson Tabo-Tipoff Tournament semifinal. They’ll meet once more in the regular season on Jan. 3.
“It’s always a tough game between us two. And that’s good. That’s why I put them on the schedule two different times to help us in the future,” said Newton-Gonzalez. “I’m really proud of the way we played in the second half, made adjustments and had to do a little bit of stuff differently. …I’m proud of how we played, especially in that fourth quarter. We really buckled down and played well.”
Worth finished with a team-high 22 points and four steals, Queen Scott following with 13 and Lexie Sengkhammee with nine.
“It think that’s what’s good about our team, is in moments when games are tied or when the game is on the line, we don’t back down. We actually shine in those moments,” Newton-Gonzalez said.
Winder-Barrow junior forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa, the nation’s top 2018 prospect according to ESPNW, led the Bulldoggs with 14 points, but was rendered scoreless for the second and fourth quarters, the result of critical adjustments made by Newton-Gonzalez on the defensive side.
Newton-Gonzalez was pleased to see her players respond well to a more foreign concept to their pressing mantra.
“You know, we’re a pressing team, and normally we press them most of the game because we found success in that. But they made adjustments from the last game, and Olivia was playing well so we had to go to a 2-3,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “It’s not something we run often, and it’s not something I’ll run until we have to again.”
It turned into a back-and-forth affair after the Lady Falcons sunk the first bucket of the game.
The Bulldoggs quickly responded by taking advantage of Ododa’s 6-foot-5 stature early. She scored all eight first-half points in the opening quarter, four during a Bulldoggs’ 6-0 run in a two-minute stretch to put the visitors ahead 8-4. A long trey by Tanner Kate Sauls on the left wing gave the Bulldoggs their biggest lead of the night at 15-10.
However, a 5-0 run sparked by a pair of free-throws by Worth closed the gap to one by the end of the opening quarter.
The Falcons had the slight upper hand in the closing minutes of the half. Back-to-back baskets, including a floater by Caroline Wysocki (6 points) and a long momentum-swaying trey by Sengkhammee gave the Falcons a 26-25 lead heading into the locker rooms.
Sengkhammee came right back in the closing seconds of the third quarter, swerving and cutting through traffic to bank a layup at 35-34. The Bulldoggs took the lead right back on the other end before the buzzer.
“She’s the reason that we kind of got over that edge, with that big 3 and then attacking the basket, and some key defensive plays. I was really proud of her,” Newton-Gonzalez said of Sengkhammee.
Flowery Branch plays Johnson on Tuesday in Oakwood.
FLOWERY BRANCH BOYS 69, WINDER-BARROW 33: Blake Coxworth and Caleb Murphy had 14 points apiece, and the Falcons rolled to their fifth-straight win from inside the Nest.
A layup by Myles Janess and 3-pointer by Brannon Clark gave the hosts an early lead that was never relinquished. The Falcons (5-0) led by as much as 21 in the third quarter, and outscored the Bulldogs (2-2) 14-1 in the fourth quarter to extend their unbeaten mark in the end.
Two other Falcon starters scored in double figures, Clark finishing with 12 points and Justin Quick with 10. Terence Butler's 11 points paced the Bulldoggs, including three 3-pointers.