TUNNEL HILL, Ga. -- Dalton coach Jeff McKinney could finally afford to let himself smile following Wednesday night's 45-44 win at rival Northwest Whitfield. It's not often a coach, this late in the season, gets to accomplish two major goals in one evening's work.
Not only did the win keep the Lady Catamounts perfect at 23-0 and provided a rare season sweep of their county neighbors, it also -- he hopes -- taught his team a valuable lesson as the postseason looms. Twenty-two turnovers, including seven in the final period, and a horrid shooting night (zero 3-pointers) won't cut it when the season is on the line.
"We were very sluggish," said McKinney, whose team came in outscoring its opponents by an average of 35 points per game. "We didn't take care of the basketball and you have to do that to win against good teams. We haven't been in that type of ballgame, so it's a good experience for us down the stretch."
DALTON 45, NORTHWEST WHITFIELD 44
Dalton 13 9 15 8 -- 45
Northwest 10 12 8 14 -- 44
Dalton (45) -- Rector 5, Besley 3, McKinney 6, Howell 5, Thomas 3, Snyder 6, Quaneisha McCurty 17, Sharpe.
Northwest (44) -- Roberts 8, Baker 6, Jackson 2, Fraire, Halle Ford 11, Barber 3, Robertson 1, Clemmons 5, Fetzer 6, Blackwell 2.
2-point goals: Dalton none; Northwest 1 (Ford). Other highlights: McCurty 13 r, 6 b; Rector 4 s (D); Carly Fetzer 8 r, 4 s (NW). Records: Dalton 24-0; Northwest 17-7.
If not for a pass that missed its mark by inches, the Lady Bruins likely would have taken a lead with under five seconds to play. The turnover, which came after a missed Dalton one-and-one free throw with 15 seconds to play, nearly capped a Northwest comeback after the team trailed by nine starting the final quarter.
Dalton had pulled away from a 22-22 halftime tie with several transition baskets during a 9-0 run early in the third, with 6-foot-5 post Quaneisha McCurty, the former Northwest star, converting on a pair of fastbreaks. The Lady Bruins (17-7) rallied behind a combined 12 points from Sydney Roberts and Halle Ford during a 13-4, tying the game at 43 on two Roberts free throws with 1:46 remaining.
Following a timeout, the Lady Cats calmly broke the Northwest pressure, worked the ball to the right side and into a rolling McCurty for a layup. After Roberts made one of two free throws with 58 seconds to play, Dalton ran off 35 seconds before April Besley was fouled, leading to the near-miss on the other end.
"We had some chances to beat the No. 2 team in the state," said Northwest coach Margaret Stockburger. "We have to build on that. We played hard and did a lot of good things. We caused them to have 22 turnovers in the game, which was very impressive. I'm just very proud of the young ladies for their effort. We were on the short end of it, but they had to battle hard to win it."
McCurty, in her first game back in the gym where she once starred, led Dalton with 17 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. She also incurred a technical foul in third quarter after a rough battle with Tori Clemmons under the basket. McCurty, like her coach, saw the significance in the close win.
"It was a very physical game, which led to the technical," she said. "There's been a lot of talk coming into this game and I tried to stay calm the best I could. Whether we win by one or 10, it's a good win. Playing this type of game is good for us because we've been blowing everybody out. This is how the competition is going to be in the state."