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Monday June 14th, 2021 5:43PM

Girls playoffs: Branch worn down by Troup County defense in Elite 8 loss at home

By Jeff Hart | Video by Seth Chapman

FLOWERY BRANCH — Sometimes the stats just flat out lie.

Troup County did not hit a single 3-pointer (0-for-5), was just 3-of-13 from the free throw line and turned the ball over six times in the final four minutes in its Class 4A quarterfinal showdown with Flowery Branch on Wednesday.

Typically, that's a recipe for disaster.

Yet, the Lady Tigers overcame all of that and used a swarming full court press to wear down the Lady Falcons for a 49-42 victory and move on to the semifinal round.

“It was a tough game defensively, but we knew it would be coming in,” Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez said. “I thought we were really good defensively, especially in the first half. I have no complaints there.

“But when they got a little lead on us we went away from some of the things we wanted to do offensively. You have to give (Troup) credit. They are an outstanding team.”

Despite forcing nine Troup County turnovers, Flowery Branch was just 2-of-12 from beyond the arc as the same outside shooting that propelled them past Marist in the second round abandoned the Lady Falcons against Troup County.

“Their defense was so good and we rushed some things at times,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “But we also had some good looks. The shots just wouldn’t fall.”

Troup County (15-5) stormed out to a 6-2 lead in the first two-plus minutes forcing Branch into just 1-of-5 shooting and three turnovers. But the Lady Falcons turned up their defensive pressure as the Lady Tigers missed six straight shots.

Branch finally got its first lead at 7-6 on a Bella Brick 3-pointer and a Locke basket in the waning seconds gave them a 9-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. A Locke basket and two free throws pushed the Branch lead to 13-8 with 5:55 left in the half.

The Lady Tigers defense then answered forcing two Branch turnovers to spark an 8-0 run for a 16-13 lead. They never trailed again.

However, Locke hit three more free throws to tie the game at 16. A stick-back basket by Jada Green and then a steal and fastbreak layup by Angie Dowdell pushed Troup’s lead to 20-16 by halftime.

Flowery Branch went ice cold in the second quarter hitting just 1-of-8 shots, including 0-for-4 from 3-point range. The Lady Tigers' full court press kept the Branch offense out of its usual flow and generated seven first-half turnovers for six points.

The Lady Falcons, who have been playing as well defensively as anyone in the field, only forced two Troup County turnovers for no points in the opening 16 minutes. 

The third quarter was the difference. Troup County held the Lady Falcons to just two baskets over the first six minutes while building a 32-22 lead. But a pair of free throw misses and a quick fastbreak basket by Brick sparked a 6-0 run, with Alana Veiga converting two more fastbreak opportunities in the final minute to get Branch back within 32-28 heading into the fourth quarter.

Another Brick fastbreak to open the final period got Branch within a possession of the lead. But the Lady Tigers responded again, using a 6-0 spurt in just 58 seconds to push the lead back to eight, 38-30, with five minutes left.

The Lady Falcons (14-15) got within four points on three occasions late, the final time at 46-42 with 30 seconds left on a Locke basket. But that’s as close as they could get as time ran out on their unexpected playoff run.

“I’m proud of the girls for the way they fought back,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “We got down 10, things definitely were not going well, but somehow they got back in it. A credit to the girls.”

Locke finished with 18 points, including hitting 8-of-10 free throws, in her final game for the Lady Falcons. Veiga had eight points and Shaina Kreiws poured in seven, all in the fourth quarter to help shoot them back into it.

Dowdell had 15 points, 11 in the second half, to pace Troup. Alexcia Murphy and Aniya Palmer had 10 points each for the Lady Tigers.

Despite the loss, Newton-Gonzalez said her team rewrote their story over the final three weeks of the season

“A lot of people late in the year didn’t even think we would get into the playoffs, much less have the kind of run we did,” she said. “The girls understood the idea of not trying to be perfect but embracing who they were and that that was enough to be able to accomplish what they wanted to do. I think they were able to rewrite their story, especially with how they played in the playoffs.

“The seniors -- Ashlee and Morgan (Aguilar) and Rylee (Rothschild) -- have left a legacy for the younger girls to follow and a lasting legacy on our program. It’s just a little sad that it had to end here.”

Troup County, the 2020 Class 4A state runners-up, moves on to the semifinals and will travel to Cairo for a shot at a second straight finals appearance.

  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports
  • Associated Tags: High school basketball, Flowery Branch girls basketball
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