HOMER — Banks County junior Pierce Martin knew there would be plenty of eyes on him Tuesday as the Leopards opened their 2019-20 season at home against Jefferson.
“With a good team like that and knowing they would be focusing on Carl (Cleveland), I knew I had to have a good game,” he said.
Martin never flinched pouring in a game-high 31 points, including hitting 9-of-11 3 pointers, to lead the Class 2A No. 9 Leopards to a thrilling 71-67 win over the Class 3A eighth-ranked Dragons at the Banks County gym.
“I just tried to make shots when I had them. It’s fun when you have two good teams like that going at it,” Martin said. “It was a great atmosphere.”
Martin opened the game with a flurry draining his first three treys as Banks County (1-0) used an 11-0 run early in the first quarter to grab a 14-5 lead. And he finished with a bang as his final one, with just 1:26 left, gave the Leopards a 67-65 lead they would not relinquish.
In between, the two teams traded 12 lead changes, six coming in the final six minutes, and six ties. Banks County led 48-45 late in the third quarter after a Martin 3-pointer but Jefferson (0-1) erased that with a 7-2 spurt early into the fourth, fueled by a pair of putback baskets by Daniel Parker.
Martin again answered with a long 3-pointer to reclaim a 55-54 lead for the Leopards but Jefferson’s Damien Lester knocked down his own 3-pointer two minutes later for a 59-58 Dragons lead. A three-point play by Parker pushed Jefferson’s lead to 62-58 with 2:41 left.
Cleveland and Clay Gosnell answered that with 3-pointers for a 64-62 advantage but the Dragons’ Owen Parker hit a trey to give Jefferson back the lead. The Leopards, however, would outscore the Dragons 7-2 over the final 1:48 to steal the win.
“It was the kind of game I expected between two good teams,” Banks County coach Mike Cleveland said. “They key for us was having other guys than Carl score. We’ve been working on that and Pierce was outstanding out there.”
Cleveland finished with 23 points and dished out five assists as he was constantly double-teamed. Gosnell had 9 for the Leopards.
Owen Parker finished with 18 points to pace Jefferson. Navy-commit Jacob Radaker added 15 points, Lester finished with 14, and Daniel Parker had 10, 8 coming in the final quarter.
JEFFERSON GIRLS 55,
BANKS COUNTY 52
Jefferson used a 7-0 run over the final 2:20 to pull out a tough road win Tuesday at the Banks County gym.
Allianne Clark was the catalyst late scoring all four of her points on a free throw and then a long 3-pointer with 1:21 left to give Jefferson the lead for good.
Banks County had three chances to tie or take the lead but committed two ill-timed turnovers and missed a wild shot with 2 seconds left. The Leopards missed their final eight shots of the game.
Livi Blackstock hit one free throw with 1.8 seconds left and missed another on purpose as Banks County could not get a shot off at the buzzer to try and tie the game.
Deshona Gaither, meanwhile harassed Banks County the entire game. The quick guard swiped 8 steals for the game, each leading to a basket, and finished with 11 points. Several of her steals led to Courtney Kidd draining five 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 15 points.
“(Deshona) is what makes us go,” Jefferson coach Greg Brown said. “We weren’t hitting too many shots but I thought we played very well defensively, especially Deshona. We try to create havoc on defense and she led the way.”
The Class 3A second-ranked Dragons (2-0) trailed 48-43 with just over four minutes left after a 3-pointer from Banks County’s Jacy Ayers. The Leopards maintained the lead at 52-48 on a stick-back basket from Sadie Simpson with 2:20 left and had the momentum. But that would turn out to be their final points.
The teams traded five lead changes to go with five ties in the first half.
Jefferson jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead in the opening minutes behind Gaither, who had six points and three steals in the Dragons’ pressure defense. But Banks County used its height and its own defensive play to get back in it.
The Leopards went on a 12-3 run over the final 5:25 of the first quarter as four different players scored. A pair of inside baskets by Simpson in the final 30 seconds gave Banks County its first lead at 14-12.
Banks County pushed the lead to 18-12 early in the second quarter on a stick-back basket by Lillie Venable. But Kidd shot Jefferson back into the lead over the final six minutes of the half.
Kidd hit three of her five first half 3-pointers, including two consecutive long-range shots that tied the game at 18, in the second quarter. An offensive rebound putback by Chloe Hiatt gave the Lady Dragons back the lead at 20-18.
Banks County reclaimed the lead 23-20 on a basket by Venable and a 3-pointer from Kalyn Beasley. But Jefferson responded with a 7-2 run over the final 3:33, capped by a Gaither steal and layup, for a 27-25 halftime lead.