FLOWERY BRANCH -- Just 14 field goals allowed while forcing 28 turnovers. Yet Flowery Branch girls basketball coach Hazel Hall scoffed at the mention that her Lady Falcons played lights-out defense in a 55-42 win over Clarke Central Tuesday in a key Region 8-AAAAA matchup at the Flowery Branch gym.
"We did force a lot of turnovers but most, if not all, of those were by our press. Our half-court defense really wasn't very good I thought," Hall said.
The win for the Lady Falcons (20-1, 13-0 Region 8-AAAAA) was their ninth straight and kept their 2 ½-game lead on Cedar Shoals intact with just three region games left.
"It was a big win for us. But we still have some areas to get better in," Hall said.
Clarke Central senior center Kayonnah Perrin was a match-up nightmare for the Lady Falcons. Perrin had 13 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks before fouling out late in the game. When she wasn't in foul trouble she dominated both ends of the glass.
"She's a beast and it's those type of players that give us trouble," Hall said. "We have to play as a team to counter great players like that."
Offensively, the Lady Falcons did just that. They don't dazzle you but their efficiency can break down any defense. They finished with 16 assists for the game and used their ball movement to wear down the Lady Gladiators in the second half.
"These girls play very well together and are very unselfish. That is one of the big strengths of this group," Hall said.
The key moment came midway through the third quarter with Flowery Branch clinging to a 30-29 lead. Jacy Ramey stole a pass and finished with a jumper and then assisted on a Marissa Ivey 3-pointer. Tavia Sykes would pull down a rebound and then score on the other end after a series of passes found her wide open to complete a 7-0 run in just 55 seconds for a 37-29 lead.
The Lady Falcons then forced two more turnovers to end the third quarter and put the game away in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter forcing three more turnovers while Sykes wrapped up the 14-1 run with a three-point play for a 44-30 lead. Clarke Central (13-9, 8-6) never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
"We're not real flashy and the girls just stay level-headed out there," Hall said. "I would like to see a little more fire from them at times but's that not who they really are as a group. They don't talk, they just play."
Dani Lacko would lead the Lady Falcons with 16 points. Breanna Locke had 12 points, and Sykes finished with nine points, seven rebounds, and three assists for Flowery Branch.
Ebony Fleming had 10 points for Clarke Central, which dropped its third straight region game.
Flowery Branch came out strong to start the game using a trapping defense and quick ball movement to run out to an 11-4 lead. The Lady Falcons forced six turnovers that led to eight first quarter points while dishing out three assists.
But the Lady Gladiators responded behind Perrin, who had four points, four rebounds, and two steals in a 9-2 run to close out the first quarter for a 13-all tie.
The Lady Falcons would take a 17-14 lead early in the second quarter on a pair of free throws by Locke. But again Clarke Central would respond.
The Lady Gladiators initiated their own press that forced seven Flowery Branch turnovers in the second quarter to ignite another 9-2 run to take a 23-19 lead with 1:25 left in the half. But Flowery Branch would close out the second quarter with a 5-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Lacko, on an assist from Sykes, for a 24-23 halftime lead.
Clarke Central would never lead again.
Flowery Branch used its motion offense to great effect tallying eight assists on nine field goals in the first half. Ivey, Locke, and Sykes each had two for the Lady Falcons while Clarke Central managed just two assists but did most of its damage inside outrebounding Flowery Branch 12-9 in the half. The Lady Gladiators scored 15 points inside the paint in the first half.