Darton’s Michelle Mitchell, center, shoots around the Albany Tech defense during Wednesday’s second meeting of the season between the two Good Life City rivals. Mitchell finished with 16 points, while Chanteniece Fann led Darton with 19 points. (David Mann/Darton State College)
ALBANY — These Lady Cavaliers were born to run, and in a 40-minute stretch there are few teams that do it as well.
Darton State College ran away from Albany Tech’s Lady Titans, 65-46, on Wednesday in GCAA play. In the process, the Lady Cavs also clinched at least a tie for the regular-season conference title and coveted top seed. With just two games remaining and two teams trailing by two games in the GCAA standings, the Lady Cavs need just one more win to be assured of hosting the conference tournament at their home gym, where Darton is now 12-0.
“We really want to try to accomplish that goal,” said Lady Cavs head coach Lea Henry, who has led Darton to a school-best 24 wins this season.
Chanteniece Fann scored a game-high 19 points Wednesday to help Darton (24-3, 16-2) pull away from ATC after leading just 26-18 at halftime. Darton swept the season series after winning, 62-40, back in December.
“We just really want to have the tournament here (at Darton),” said Fann, who added nine rebounds in the win. “If we win (next) Wednesday (vs. East Georgia State), we host for sure.”
Even with Fann back healthy and scoring in bunches, Lady Cavs leader Michelle Mitchell still managed to match her season average with 16 points, and Crystal Reed dominated inside off the bench with 12 points and eight rebounds.
“It’s pretty tough,” Fann said of defending Darton’s star trio. “If they defend me, Michelle will turn it up. There’s no way if they can’t run with us.”
Darton used a suffocating defense and up-and-down attack for 40 minutes to wear down Albany Tech (13-13, 6-10 GCAA), which is on the fringe of the playoffs as the eighth seed in the standings. The top seed, currently Darton, will play the No. 8 seed in the first round of the conference tournament, meaning these two teams could see each other again very soon.
“(There is a) very good chance,” ATC head coach Kenneth Williams said of having to face the Lady Cavs again. “I don’t think we matched their intensity in the second half. I think they probably got every loose ball.”
The Lady Titans, who need a win today against East Georgia at Albany State’s HPER Gym to stay in the hunt for a higher seeding, shot just 21 percent from the floor Wednesday after taking an early 9-6 lead, but a 10-0 Darton run and another 16-4 Lady Cavs spurt to open the second half ran the Lady Titans out of gas.
“We couldn’t make any baskets,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to make some shots. (21 percent shooting is) not going to cut it.”
Darton’s Jasmine Wilson added 10 assists in the win, but it was the inside game with Reed and Fann, who scored multiple baskets underneath just before the shot clock expired, that gave ATC fits.
“We like to score on the blocks,” Henry said. “Chan and Crystal played really well. Since (Fann) has gotten back in rhythm, she’s played extremely well. She works hard to score. It was really important that she and Crystal stepped up for us because the guards weren’t scoring.”
Darton, which is No. 13 in the NJCAA Division I Top 25 rankings, shot under 40 percent for the game, but its run-and-gun style has made the Lady Cavs a national force.
“You’ve got to play that way when you play us,” Henry said. “That’s one thing about our team: Our kids play hard, and when they play hard like that it’s important they get some rest.”
Darton, winners of five straight, will get that rest with a week off before playing host to East Georgia State College on Wednesday and then a final test against Georgia Highlands at home to close out the regular season. The first round of the GCAA tournament begins Feb. 26 with all signs pointing to Darton State College as the host.
With four games remaining and a 3-game lead on East Georgia State, the Lady Titans, meanwhile, can lock up at least the No. 8 seed with a win today.