BAINBRIDGE — With 8.9 seconds to play in overtime Saturday night, Thomasville guard Trey Gosier calmly stepped to the line and sank a free throw that iced the Bulldogs’ 47-42 victory against Bainbridge.
But that was about the only time there was calm of any kind in this one.
In a battle of neighbors and rivals that are separated by just 35 miles, the Class AA No. 2 Bulldogs (2-1) found a way to hold off The Herald No. 3 Bearcats (3-2), despite a late rally that saw Bainbridge with a chance to win in regulation. Instead, the sea of nearly 1,000 fans in purple and gold that packed the Bearcats’ gym Saturday for this annual rivalry showdown watched Rodney Glenn’s 20-footer rim out.
“We had the shot,” Bainbridge coach Rickey McCullough said. “It wasn’t the one we wanted, but we had the chance to win it and we just missed. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Bainbridge, which trailed for nearly the entire game before closing on a 10-2 run in the fourth quarter to make it 34-34 and set up the final play.
Willie Clayton, Thomasville’s 6-foot-8 big man who scored a game-high 21 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, secured the miss by Glenn, and the Bulldogs regrouped for the extra period after a miserable second half that saw them score just nine total points.
Clayton blistered Bainbridge in the first half with 13 points — all of which came within three feet of the basket — as he dominated the boards, at one point grabbing four rebounds in a span of five seconds, three of them offensive. The Bearcats simply had no answer for Clayton early — but they did have an equalizer in the form of Paul Chukes, who kept Bainbridge in the game with eight first-half points, including two nothing-but-net 3s from the corner. Chukes finished with a game-high 15 — 12 of those coming from downtown.
Bainbridge was down, 25-18, at the half when assistant coach Kelvin Cochran admitted that Clayton was a problem for the Bearcats, but said “We’ve got a plan” for him in the second half.
And for the most part, the plan worked.
Thanks to double-teams every time Clayton got the ball, the Bulldogs’ big man was held to just nine points in the second half as the Bearcats clawed and scratched their way back.
“We were going to make someone else beat us,” McCullough said of the strategy to contain Clayton, who signed with Division I Charlotte just last month.
Unfortunately for Bearcats fans, Bainbridge — which went just 8-of-21 from the free throw line — all but beat itself.
“How many free throws did we miss?” McCullough asked out loud after the game as glared at the stat sheet. “Thirteen? Man ...”
Bainbridge got into the bonus early in the second half, but those missed free throws were a big part of the six minutes both teams went scoreless — a drought that began with 5:29 left in the third period and stretched into the fourth — as a frantic pace from both offenses failed to yield any points. Chukes broke the drought thirty seconds into the fourth quarter when he made the final free throw of a three-shot penalty after he was fouled on a 3-pointer.
Once the ice was thawed off the Bainbridge basket, the Bearcats went on a 7-0 run that was stretched to 10-2 with a Dontavious Marshall 3-pointer that tied the game at 34-34 with less than two minutes to play. Then a costly turnover — after a long offensive series of keepaway by Thomasville — allowed the Bearcats to hold for the final shot with 30 seconds left. And when Glenn missed, a look of relief washed over Thomasville coach Ben Tillman’s face.
“We’re a defensive team and we know our defense is how we win games. I knew it could win it for us in overtime,” said Tillman, whose team’s only loss is to Herald No. 4 Westover, while its other win also came against Westover in the season opener for both last month. “Yeah, Willie didn’t do much in the second half, but I don’t think it was so much what they were doing than what we weren’t doing that (limited us to just nine second-half points).”
The Bulldogs heated up with it mattered.
Thomasville scored 13 points in overtime, including four each from Clayton and Gosier, who finished with 13. Gosier also had a monster steal and breakaway layup after the Bulldogs pulled ahead, 42-40, with less than two minutes left to make it a four-point edge, 44-40.
“Awesome,” Tillman said of the play by Gosier. “He’s quick. That play was huge.”
Trey Kelly, who finished with eight points, responded quickly after Gosier’s steal with a layup on the offensive end to cut the lead to 44-42, then had a huge block of Gosier’s drive on the defensive end that turned the ball back over to the Bearcats with a chance to tie. Glenn pushed the ball up, then found Kelly streaking down the floor. But Kelly, the Bearcats’ 6-6 senior not known for his outside shot, missed a 3-pointer that would’ve put Bainbridge ahead by one.
Thomasville then closed the game out from the free throw line.
“I knew if we were patient in our offense and did what we needed to do, we’d be OK,” Tillman said. “Our offense wasn’t great in the second half, but we got the job done. And against a good team like Bainbridge, we’ll take it.”
Bainbridge returns to action Dec. 16 at home in its annual Holiday Shootout against Florida Class A power Malone.
g BAINBRIDGE GIRLS 47, THOMASVILLE 29: The Lady Bearcats got 18 points from Bri Wade, Richana Jackson scored 15 and Bainbidge snapped a three-game losing streak Saturday to move to 2-3. Thomasville, which remained winless and fell to 0-6, was led by Ricarsha Jackson with 11.
“We’re kind of the same team right now, us and Thomasville,” Cochran, the Lady Bearcats’ first-year coach who also assists with the boys team, said after the win. “They’re trying to find their identity, and so are we. We just need to get some confidence, and this win will help. Seeing Bri have a good night was encouraging. We need her and Richana to play like they did (Saturday), or we’ll have some tough games.”