WHAT Jefferson lacked in style points Tuesday night, it made up for with sheer determination.
Overcoming one of their worst shooting nights of the year, the Lady Dragons outlasted East Jackson 29-26 at home in a defensive struggle.
“The one thing you can never underestimate is the heart of a team,” coach Jason Gibson said. “This team has come a long way. There was probably a time this year where we might not have won that game … Good teams find a way to win basketball games like that.”
Kellie Goza led the Lady Dragons offensively with nine points.
Jefferson can lock up at least a tie for the no. 3 seed in the subregion if it can beat rival Jackson County Friday night at home.
The Lady Dragons will have to go the rest of the way without their main post player Bailey Boyd who was lost for the season with an ACL injury.
Gibson said his team must play like it’s a “wounded animal.” “That’s got to be the mindset of this team … We’ve still got a lot of season left,” he said.
As for Tuesday’s victory over East Jackson it came three days after having beaten the Lady Eagles 49-39 on the road. Turning around and having to play East Jackson again presented problems for Jefferson.
“Anytime you play a team back-to-back, you can expect kind of a backyard brawl,” Gibson said. “It’s tough when you play your rival back-to-back. To East Jackson’s credit, they got in a zone (defense) and we did not shoot the ball well tonight.”
Jefferson, which is averaging about six three-pointers a game, didn’t hit a trey until the final minute, but it was a big one.
Skylar Evanson drained a three with 40 seconds left to give the Lady Dragons a 27-26 lead.
Then two free throws by Sarah Wood – she banked the first in, while the second drew the back iron and fell in – gave Jefferson a three-point lead.“Sarah has come such a long way this year,” Gibson said. “I’m extremely proud of her … She is probably one of our most improved players this year.”
Jefferson led the low-scoring affair 12-10 at the half and 18-15 after three quarters, but then went four and half minutes without scoring to start the final period.
Jefferson eventually trailed 26-22 with less than a minute left before Kellie Goza hit two free throws with 50 seconds left to pull the Lady Dragons within two.
Then Evanson buried her huge three-pointer 10 seconds later.
While a very sub-par night offensively, the Lady Dragons’ defensive effort was all Gibson could ask for.
“Any time you hold a team to 26 points, you feel like you ought to win,” Gibson said.
Jefferson had an easier time with East Jackson in the first meeting.
The Lady Dragons hit four three-pointers in the first quarter in that game as Jefferson ran out to a 15-2 lead and eventually led 22-12 at the half and 37-22 after three quarters.
“We shot the ball extremely well from the perimeter,” Gibson said.
Jefferson then led by as much as 17 in the fourth quarter before Gibson inserted his freshmen subs.
The coach was particularly pleased with his defense, which surrendered just 12 first-half points.
“I thought our defense was outstanding … I felt like we did a good job limiting their shots,” Gibson said.
Bethany Whitlock led the Lady Dragons with 11 points and Evanson added 10.
Before the two-game series with East Jackson, Jefferson experienced another tough loss to Elbert County, falling 48-41 to the Lady Blue Devils Friday on the road. Evanson finished with 10 points.
Gibson said his team allowed Elbert County too many run-outs and easy baskets, noting that the Lady Blue Devils scored 12 uncontested points.
“We didn’t even have a chance to play defense,” Gibson said. “Things against a team like Elbert County will kill you.”
Playing its first game without Bailey Boyd, the team’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder, Jefferson led for much of the first half against Elbert County but trailed 25-23 at the half after a late tip-in by the Lady Blue Devils.
Jefferson didn’t help its cause at the charity stripe, missing 11 free throws.
“When you add it all up, it’s tough to overcome when you’re playing a good team,” Gibson said.