DALTON, Ga. - Greg Linder has heard all the doubts about the legitimacy of his basketball team's credentials. Following Thursday night's blowout win in the Region 7-AAA quarterfinals, the criticism might soon start to die down.
Linder's third-ranked Murray County Indians hit eight of their first 10 shots and went on to rout Cedartown, 70-51, to clinch a berth in the state tournament. They will play Pickens County in a semifinal today.
Pickens rallied late to eliminate host Dalton, 63-55. The other boys' semifinal will pit Allatoona, which defeated LaFayette 50-45, against Heritage, which eliminated Ringgold 52-49 in a Catoosa County matchup.
Murray County (23-2) displayed the kind of confident play it has all season. With the Bulldogs sagging inside to try to control 6-foot-5 post Taylor Patterson, the Indians hit three consecutive 3-pointers. Then when the Cedartown defenders started running to the wings, Patterson took control.
All five Indians starters scored within the game's first four minutes, and they led 21-2 with 3:02 remaining in the period.
"The start of the game was just how we wanted to come out," said Linder, whose team took a 32-10 lead into the second period. "We wanted to establish early and play with confidence. We just played them last Saturday (a 19-point win) and thought we could knock them out.
"We lost a little bit of intensity in the second half, but the first half we played with intensity, executed properly and we ran through every set we needed to run through with precision."
The second quarter proved no better for the Bulldogs. Patterson, who's headed to Darton Junior College on a baseball scholarship, scored eight of his game-high 27 points in the period on a variety of inside moves and midrange jumpers. A driving layup by Zach England pushed the lead to 47-17 midway through the period.
The Indians were understandably flat in the second half, but the lead stayed in the 20s until a late Cedartown run against reserves.
"We just came out focused because we knew what this game meant," Patterson said. "We've been playing together since we were 8 or 9 years old. It's just chemistry. Heck, when we come out we don't pass the look test. We're not exactly the best-looking team out there, but we come out and we play hard and we play together."
Linder agreed that anything the team accomplishes is largely due to the bond the players have formed over the years and their familiarity with each other's games.
"They've seen success way before they came to high school, so they've kind of jelled already," he said. "What's great about these guys is they are so unselfish. They play for one another, not just with one another, and I think that's the key."
Guard England added 13 points for the winners, who committed only five turnovers in the dominating first half.