DALTON, Ga. - Though his team held an eight-point lead at halftime, Dalton girls' basketball coach Jeff McKinney wasn't entirely happy with what he saw in the Region 7-AAAA tournament quarterfinal game against Gilmer County.
Specifically, McKinney saw an opportunity remaining to knock the Lady Bobcats out, and Dalton proceeded to do that as star senior Maddie Howell took over. Howell's 15 second-half points powered the Lady Catamounts to a 53-46 win and a berth into the state tournament field.
"We talked a lot about being aggressive at halftime," said McKinney, who was honored following the game for his 500th career win, 250 of them at Dalton. "They were playing a sagging zone, and though we were running our offense, we weren't taking advantage of the gaps. We did a better job of finding those gaps in the second half, kicking it out to Maddie, and she hit some big shots."
Howell had just three points in the first half, when Brooke Thomas had 10 to help build a 27-19 lead, but scored Dalton's first seven points in the third quarter and added a 3-pointer to give the Lady Catamounts a 12-point lead ending the period. When Howell hit another 3 early in the final quarter, the lead ballooned to 17 and Gilmer was reeling.
Though the Lady Bobcats, behind the suddenly hot hand of Britton Farlow, went on a 12-1 run late in the game, Dalton (20-6) was able to hang on. It was sweet revenge for the Lady Cats, who were upset by Gilmer in this round a year ago and missed the state tournament.
"It's awesome. Last year they got us, but this year we came back, fought hard and now we're going to the state," Howell said. "In the second half I just realized I needed to turn it on if we wanted to keep playing. Last year we really weren't taking this game seriously, so today we came to play."
Thomas ended with 14 points for Dalton, while Brittany Lowman topped Gilmer with 14 and Bailey Charles added 13.
In Tuesday's other games, the Pickens County girls eliminated Southeast Whitfield, 54-32; the River Ridge boys defeated Heritage 60-35; and the Dalton boys eliminated Cass, 72-63.
Today's schedule starts with the Heritage and River Ridge girls at 4, followed by the Ridgeland and Gilmer County boys at 5:30, the LaFayette and Northwest Whitfield girls at 7 and the Northwest Whitfield and Pickens County boys at 8:30.