Going into the final home game of the 2019-2020 basketball season, Dawson County Head Coach Eric Herrick was well aware that a win on Jan. 24 would not only secure his team the top-seed in the 7-AAA regional tournament, but would also guarantee a berth in the 2019-2020 GHSA State playoffs.
“That’s huge,” Herrick said. “We want to get that out of the way.”
And in a game which saw a determined Lumpkin County squad hold Dawson County to their lowest score of the season, the Tigers locked themselves into the postseason for the fourth consecutive year with a solid 55-45 victory over the Indians.
In the face of a team that averages 69 points a contest, slowing down the game may have been the best option for the Indians — as demonstrated by the fact that neither team scored a point during the first four minutes of play.
Dawson County took the opening possession and following the now customary game-plan, moved the ball rapidly into Lumpkin’s half of the floor, using passing and movement to create space, and taking the first shot of the game almost immediately.
In turn, Lumpkin County almost meandered down the hardwood, with each player holding the ball as long as possible, passing only when pressured, running nearly a full minute and a half off the clock before taking their first shot of the game.
“That’s the way they wanted to play,” Herrick said. “They were content with running two or three minutes off every possession. They played it 5-wide, and were just kind of run clock, run clock, run clock to try to keep it as low scoring as possible, and they were successful.”
But not until the 4:13 mark of the opening period, when senior Campbell Reed lined up the first of his seven three-pointers of the night, did points finally hit the board.
From there the Tigers scored in a quick burst of shots as both Reed and senior Eli Burress followed up with three-point shots.
Down nine to nothing, Lumpkin County suddenly shifted gears. Moving the ball rapidly down court, the Indians caught the Tigers napping and rapidly closed the gap over the next minutes, scoring 10 unanswered points before Burruss broke the streak with a tap-in under the net to give Dawson County a hard earned one-point lead at the end of the first period.
Reed gave the Tigers their biggest lead of the half, putting them up 16-10, with another pair of shots to open the second period, but the Indians fought back to tie the game, chewing up half the clock in the process with their keep-away style of play.
Junior Mason Barnes finally broke the deadlock with a pair of back to back three point shots, pushing the lead back to six as halftime approached, only to watch the Indians fight back and narrow the score gap to one as the teams hit the locker rooms for the break.
“We weren’t getting stops,” Herrick said. “They were dribble driving us; we couldn’t contain the basketball; point guard’s getting downhill on us and having dump-downs. We weren’t getting stops and struggled to shoot the ball.”
Senior Bryson Broadway changed the Tiger’s situation immediately at the opening of the third period with a pair of big rebounds that allowed Dawson County to score a quick five points. Finally, the Tigers looked like the Tigers, and the crowd roared their approval.
Unfortunately, in what was now an all too familiar pattern, the Lumpkin team, content to let the clock tick away, patiently looked for openings and not only fought back to narrow the gap, but this time took the lead, scoring seven points.
With less than two minutes in the third period, now down by one, this time, the Tigers fought back.
Senior Jasper Gibson, who had been quiet until now, furiously drove the lane to grab his first points of the game on an old-fashioned three-point play. On his next possession, he drew a crowd, then beautifully moved the ball to Reed on the outside for a buzzer beating shot that gave the Tigers a 5-point lead to open the final quarter.
The fourth period turned into the Barnes and Reed show as the duo combined for a sudden flurry of scoring that netted 20 points. Despite the sudden uptick in points, Lumpkin County was still able to keep the game within striking distance the entire eight minutes.
Not until Reed’s final shot, a turn-around jumper under the net, was the game secure. But in the end the Dawson County Tigers walked off the floor with their eleventh straight regular season win, the number one seed in the 7-AAA regional tournament, and a berth in the 2019-2020 GHSA State Playoffs.