Former Georgia State and Mercer head coach, Lea Henry, a Damascus native who is now the coach at Darton College, talks to her new team during a timeout Tuesday during the Lady Cavs’ season opener, which it won handily against Middle Georgia Tech, 102-23. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY -- The Darton Lady Cavaliers never let up in their season-opening basketball game Tuesday night against Middle Georgia Tech.
Not when they were up 62-8 at halftime. And not even when they were ahead by more than 75 points in the closing minutes.
First-year coach Lea Henry has preached intensity all preseason, and the Lady Cavs smothered the outmatched Lady Titans with that intensity for 40 unrelenting minutes in Tuesday night's 102-23 rout.
"We kept telling them, 'We play one way. We practice one way,' " Henry said. "We do it all the same way, no matter if it's practice, preseason or in the season. We have a high level of intensity."
You could see that intensity when the Lady Cavs forced Middle Georgia Tech into each of its 43 turnovers. It was there when sophomore Iesha Dunbar sank a 3-pointer from the corner of the court at the halftime buzzer and then pumped her fist while running toward her teammates.
The intensity never relented as the Lady Cavs crept toward 100 points with the Darton student section keeping them updated point by point. Each time the Lady Cavs scored, the students would tell them how many points they were away from 100.
"It feels so good to reach 100," said Darton freshman Georgette Benton, a Seminole County grad who scored 13 points in her college debut.
Benton then added: "I didn't even have to look up to the clock, because I could hear the crowd counting down. I started hearing them at, 'Seven to go.' "
The scoreboard could have said 0-0, and Henry's team still would've been playing the same way.
"I don't think they were even aware of what the scoreboard said," Henry said. "They just wanted to do well. They wanted to play hard and have fun. And they wanted to win."
Five players scored in double figures for the Lady Cavs, who shot 51 percent from the field for the game. JoJo Smalls led Darton with 15 points, 12 rebounds and five steals, while Christina Brown had 14 points, Chanteniece Fann had 12 points and Bryonne Ballard had 11 points.
It was a blowout of near record proportions for the Lady Cavs, who have scored more than 100 points 10 times in the last five seasons, including a 119-67 rout of Enterprise State Community College in 2008. But the victory also came against a Middle Georgia Tech team that is in its first true year of existence. The Lady Titans had a team last year, but they were forced to forfeit their games because of a lack of players.
"This was a great learning experience for my girls," Middle Georgia Tech coach Lawanda Shelley-Brown said. "It shows them what level they should be playing at. And it gives them something to shoot for. My mindset was to go in and play a good game and come out with our heads up."
The Lady Cavs opened up the game with five straight steals, which helped them build a 9-0 lead in the first two minutes. The Lady Titans would score sporadically during the first half, while Darton put together several lengthy scoring runs. During a 10-minute span at the end of the first half, the Lady Cavs outscored Middle Georgia Tech, 36-0.
"I thought we got into the passing lanes and really harassed the ball handler," said Henry, whose Lady Cavs created 29 turnovers in the first half and led 62-8 at halftime. "And we did a good job of getting the deflections and turning them into something offensively."
The Lady Cavs went deep into their bench and stopped applying full-court pressure in the second half but still outscored Middle Georgia Tech, 40-15, in the final 20 minutes.
"It seemed like we had been playing together for a long time the way we played (Tuesday)," said Smalls, a sophomore from Hardeeville, S.C. "We are ornery on defense. We go hard on defense. Defense is all we really focus on. The offense will just come out of our defense."
Twelve Lady Cavs scored in the game, while Middle Georgia Tech had no one score more than four points. The Lady Titans shot 16 percent from the field, 6 percent from 3-point range and 33 percent from the free throw line.
"It's a great opening win for us," Henry said. "The players understand that if you get after players defensively, good things will happen. I thought we played with a lot of confidence, and everybody contributed. It was a great team win."