Although the final few minutes were not exactly what Decatur wanted Friday night, they were able to ride a ferocious defense to a 42-41 home win over Gainesville.
The Lady Eagles (16-3, 1-0) dodged a last-second heave from the Lady Leopards (9-7, 0-1) to hold on for the win.
“We talked about what we could do as a team coming into this one,” Decatur coach Billy Garner said. “Them being the defending district champions, we knew they would come in ready to go.
“Our goal was to get after them, play hard and get that first win. Thank goodness we held on.”
Decatur missed six straight free throws in the final 25 seconds to allow Gainesville to claw back to within a point. After the fourth miss, Gainesville’s Hali Smith nailed a 3-pointer to bring them within a point with four seconds remaining.
Shelby Drews was fouled with two ticks left, and missed both her attempts from the charity stripe. Gainesville got a shot off after the rebound.
“We missed shots and maybe did a little scoreboard watching,” Garner said about the closing moments. “Then we didn’t make some free throws down the stretch that would have made it a little easier.”
Decatur trailed 19-17 at the half, but came out on fire in the third quarter.
“We didn’t rebound very well, and we weren’t getting into our offense,” Garner said about the first half. “Once we started rebounding and executing on offense we got the lead.
“We handled their pressure better than what we’d been doing – and especially in close games, we’ve got to make free throws.”
The Lady Eagles outscored Gainesville 15-4 in the quarter to take a 32-23 advantage to the final eight minutes. Murphy Graham had eight of the 15 points in the period.
A much better effort on the boards and execution on the offensive end led to the turnaround.
On defense, Haley Dennard shut down Gainesville’s biggest threat. Dennard followed Ariannah Kemp all over the court and held her to just one point the entire night.
“She [Dennard] did an outstanding job,” Garner said. “She did just what I knew she could, and that’s why we put her on her. She had some help, but overall she did a great job on [Kemp].”
The Lady Leopards cut it to 39-35 with two minutes to go, but two free throws from Drews and another by Graham put the game away.
Drews led all scorers with 18, and Graham finished with 15.
Katie Isham added six, and Traci Hale tossed in five.
Chandler Kemp led Gainesville with 13.