Randy Isom's Early County team struggled at the free throw line late in the game Saturday against Cook, and it cost them in a 51-46 loss.
BLAKELY — Early County missed several things in Saturday night’s 51-46 loss to region foe Cook County, including its final six free throws, a game-tying 3-pointer and a late layup.
But the Bobcats didn’t miss anything more than junior big man Jacori Taylor.
Without Taylor, who has been out for much of the season with a knee injury, the Bobcats were nearly single-handedly outrebounded by Cook County senior Jerome Hill and coughed up their lead in Region 1-AAA.
The loss drops Herald No. 2 Early County (15-3, 5-2) into a tie for third place in the region along with Cook County (13-3, 4-2), while both teams now sit behind Albany High and Thomasville.
“We’ve got guards trying to rebound,” said Early County coach Randy Isom, whose Bobcats were outrebounded, 45-27. “And I’ve got two of the strongest kids in the region, and they won’t even get in there and get a rebound. They just stand there and look.”
Isom continued: “I think we will get back on it, because everybody realizes we are weak in the post. We are begging guys to step up and help. So we are going to keep plugging until we can get two or three to help out in the post.”
In a back-and-forth contest where neither team led by more than four points until late in the fourth quarter, Hill dominated on both sides of the court.
The senior, who is still trying to decide between Valdosta State, Charleston Southern or Gardner Webb to continue his basketball career, finished with 21 points and 18 rebounds and gave the small Early County lineup all it could handle.
“It’s tough being without our center, Jacori Taylor,” said Early County senior Ladonis Yarbrough, who finished with a team-high 17 points and seven rebounds. “We got to work our big men into a rhythm, so we can have more confidence to dish the ball off to them. That’s about the biggest thing we are missing right now is our center.”
The Bobcats, who were coming off a big region win on the road Friday against Fitzgerald, also missed some big free throws. They finished 13-for-25 from the line, and when the game was on the line they especially struggled. In a one-possession game in the final minutes, Early County missed six free throws in a row.
“We work on free throws every day before we leave practice,” Isom said. “They just weren’t focused. It’s just that simple. If you are focused you make them. If you are unfocused you miss them. And we missed them.”
There were 13 lead changes and nine ties in the game, but when Cook County took a 37-35 lead with 5:38 left in the game, the Hornets never let go.
“They like playing a slow-paced game, so we knew from the get-go that once they got the lead they would try to run the clock down,” said Early County senior Darontay McCoy, who had 15 points and seven rebounds. “We just couldn’t get the lead. If we would have got the lead it would have been a different game.”
The slow-paced style was exactly what Cook County coach Tommy Blackshear wanted.
“We know how good Early County is here, and we wanted to kind of keep the game slow and boring,” Blackshear said. “We got them in the tight game we wanted and needed them in, and we will take it. We knew it would be nip and tuck. That’s how they were last year.”
Early County’s biggest lead was 22-18 at the beginning of the third quarter, and the Bobcats led by two points as late as 6:20 left in the fourth quarter when Yarbrough connected on a jumper.
Also for Early County, Dequantay George had nine points, and Tracy Hallmon finished with three points and four rebounds. Shue Mills also got in double figures for the Hornets with 12 points.
The Bobcats are in action again Tuesday on the road at Baker County.
EARLY GIRLS 51, COOK 45: The Lady Bobcats held off a late comeback by Cook to improve to 13-4 overall and 5-2 in the region.
Justice Lee and Tynicia McCoy each scored 16 points for Early, which is tied for second in the region. MarKenya Lyles, the Lady Bobcats’ only senior, also scored nine points.
“We stepped up and played a very good game (Saturday night). Our defense was tough and we hustled,” Early girls coach Mary Brown said.
Early led by seven points after the third quarter but saw their lead get chipped down to three points midway through the final period. The Lady Bobcats then held the Lady Hornets (10-7, 3-3) to just three points in the final five minutes to secure the win.