TUNNEL HILL, Ga. - It should be the easiest of basketball shots, but the free throw has haunted teams since the game's inception. The charity stripe was anything but giving Thursday night for Dalton.
The Catamounts missed 19 free throws in falling 58-53 to rival Northwest Whitfield, including four in the final minute. Northwest's Tanner Bailey scored the game's final four points, including two freebies, as the Bruins clinched at least a tie for the regular-season title in subregion 7B-AAAA.
"We haven't been shooting them well all season, and I told them it was going to cost us one of these days, and tonight it did," Dalton coach Mike Duffie said. "That was the game. If we hit our free throws we win easily, but we didn't."
The Bruins (15-10, 8-2), winners of five games in a row, will await tonight's Dalton-Ridgeland game to see if they will win the subregion outright. A win for the Catamounts (16-5, 7-2) will force a coin flip to determine the No. 1 seed for next week's region tournament.
Northwest began each half as if it would put the Cats away, building eight-point leads in the first and third quarters before the visitors rallied each time. The Bruins led by four entering the final period. But an 8-3 Dalton run, capped by Chris Childs' driving layup, earned the Cats a 49-48 lead with 3:40 to play.
Emier Bowman gave Dalton another one-point lead with 33 seconds to play on a putback, but Northwest's Bailey soon stole the show.
"Tanner had a bad turnover and we took him out for a minute, but he handled that well and came back in to make some clutch plays," Northwest coach Ryan Richards said.
Bailey hit a runner in the lane for a 56-55 Northwest lead, and following two more Dalton free throw misses, he was fouled and was true on his two shots for a three-point lead with six seconds to play. Dalton got the ball across midcourt and called time with three seconds to play, but Bowman's 3-point attempt hit the front rim and the Northwest bench and fans celebrated.
"I thought there we were going to stretch it, but we had a couple of turnovers they took advantage of," Richards said. "We played well in parts but could never put them away. Still, I'm very proud of the effort."
Caleb Storey led Northwest with 19 points, while Bowman topped Dalton with 18.
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