Dragons win close one at North Oconee after beating Commerce Friday
Bottom line, Jefferson is 1-0 in subregion play.
But coach Bolling DuBose isn’t overly thrilled with how his Dragons arrived at that point.
Jefferson (5-3, 1-0) survived a lethargic performance Tuesday night, beating 8-AA South foe North Oconee 54-49 behind a career-high 20 points from Austin Thompson.
Jefferson's Tate Chesser rises to the rim in the Dragons' 74-69 victory over Commerce Friday night. Photo by Ben Munro
“We came out and played flat and really sluggish and didn’t play well,” said DuBose, whose team trailed 20-11 after the first quarter. .
Jefferson hopes for a little more vigor Friday when it faces a hot-shooting Jackson County team that’s won five of its last six. Tip off is approximately 8:30 p.m. DuBose said this is “obviously going to be a tough game.”
“It’s going to be at their gym,” DuBose said. “They’re going to be really pumped up and ready to play and same thing for us.”
The usually high-tempo Dragons were unable to set the pace of the game Tuesday. Rather, North Oconee dictated the tenor of this contest.
Jefferson trailed 44-41 with 4:30 left in the game.
“They like to slow the game down and we let them do it,” DuBose said.
Thompson scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half. That total included four first-half three-pointers.
Tate Chesser was the only other Dragon in double figures with 14. He scored eight of those in the fourth quarter.
DuBose said his teams — for whatever reason — tend to never play well at North Oconee’s gym.
“We have never played a good game over there,” he said. “I knew that it was going to be a tough game going in.”
The Dragons were already coming off a pressure cooker, having outlasted Commerce Friday night in a close affair.
Jefferson hit 5-of-6 free throws in the closing moments to hold off visiting Commerce, 74-69, in front of a noisy, packed house.
With the game tied at 69 with 28 seconds left, Thompson drained a pair of free throws to give the Dragons a two-point lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Thompson scored 19 points.
David Watson then clinched the victory with a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left to give Jefferson a two-possession lead. Watson finished with 13 points.
“We don’t like to lose at home,” DuBose said. “I thought our guys did a great job when they had to.”
Jefferson’s victory came after much offseason discussion of this series between the two schools. Some of that banter included talk of a two-game sweep of the Dragons this season.
“I told our kids you’ve got 32 minutes to shut them up and prove that they can talk all they want to but they’ve still got to find a way to beat us,” DuBose said.
It appeared that the Dragons would take a much easier path to victory in this long-standing rivalry.
Jefferson led by 15 points with 6:32 left in the game before Commerce, the defending Region 8-A champions, stormed back with a 23-8 run to tie the contest at 69 with 33 seconds remaining.
It then came down to a matter of free throw shooting.
Thompson, one of the best free throw shooters on the team, made his free throws to break the tie, while Commerce’s Thomas McMillan missed a crucial pair with 18 seconds left.
In addition to Thompson and Watson, Jefferson post player Hoytes Damons had a big night with 11 points, which included two big buckets down the stretch to help keep Jefferson ahead during Commerce’s big fourth-quarter run.
DuBose pointed to the play of both Damons and fellow post player Dustin Casey, who had a good floor game.
The close contest between these rivals sets up an intriguing matchup Jan. 8 in Commerce.
“So I’m sure that they’ve already put a circle around that and think they’re going to get us when we come back over there,” DuBose said. “And it will be another great game.”