DALTON, Ga. - There was already a rather minuscule margin for error for the Dalton boys' basketball team in their Class 4A first-round state playoff game against fourth-ranked Atlanta Marist. The War Eagles were taller, faster and stronger coming into the contest, but the Catamounts did themselves no favors.
Marist led wire-to-wire Wednesday, taking a 71-42 victory at Dalton to advance to the state second round, where they will face the winner of the Johnson/Shaw matchup.
A bad sign for the Catamounts (18-8) came on their first possession. After a missed shot by Marist, Dalton coach Mike Duffie's club spread out the War Eagles, possessing the ball for a minute. An opening finally arose, but a miscommunication between two teammates led to the ball being fumbled out of bounds.
The visitors jumped out to a 17-4 advantage, but the Catamounts made a run, trimming the deficit to seven on two occasions, the latter at 28-21 on a 3-pointer by Alex Bautista with 1:36 left in the half. He then had a steal and was fouled, but missed the front end of the 1-and-1 situation.
Marist (22-4) responded by going on a 7-0 run to end the half.
"We had a chance in the second quarter, but then Marist made that run," Dalton guard Rico Mears, who led the Catamounts with 11 points, said. "We knew we were going to have to play hard and hit shots.
"They were the best team we've played all year, but we thought we could beat them."
Mears hit a pair of tightly-contested jumpers early in the third quarter, followed by a Bautista layup that cut the lead to 37-28 early in the third quarter, but Marist had stretched the lead from nine to 22 by the end of the period as the Catamounts could manage only two points over the final 5:35 of the period.
Georgia Tech signee Quinton Stephens had 19 points for Marist -- all but four in the first half. Cornell signee Dave Onourah finished with eight points and nine rebounds, while sophomore point guard Cam Wiley had 13 points.
"We don't take any win for granted," Marist coach Greg McClaire said. "We're not some sort of blow-out squad; Dalton plays good basketball, and Duffie does a good job of coaching those kids."
Dalton finished the game with 23 rebounds. Marist had that many on the offensive glass alone, as well as forcing 14 steals.
Demond Rucker did battle the War Eagles' size and length, finishing with nine points and seven rebounds.
"We knew there weren't many opportunities inside," Duffie said. "We needed to hit about 60 percent from the floor; we were at 40. We shot 16 percent from 3-point range.
"Offensively, we battled, but Marist is long. Passes we were normally able to make we couldn't make tonight."