JEFFERSON stayed alive in the postseason thanks to a reversal of its free throw shooting fortunes.
The top-seeded Dragons sank eight consecutive free throws in the final 40 seconds Wednesday to clinch a 64-61 region tournament win over no. 4 seed Banks County and earn a trip to the state tournament. Click here for photos.
“We dodged a bullet tonight,” Jefferson coach Bolling DuBose said. “I give Banks County all the credit in the world for playing well. I’m just really proud of our kids … It would have been a shame to go out like this but they didn’t. They found a way.”
Austin Thompson finished with 28 points despite carrying a foul load. He iced the win by hitting six consecutive free throws in the last 20 seconds. The Dragons (18-8), who’ve struggled significantly at the charity stripe this year, converted 14-of-16 attempts from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
“That’s the way you win basketball games,” DuBose said. “So our guys did a great job at the free throw line when they had to.”
Jefferson has assured itself a spot in the state tournament, but there is still much to play for in the region tournament. The Dragons will advance to the Friday semifinals at Hart County against Rabun County. Jefferson must lock up a no. 1 or 2 seed if it wants to avoid a long drive to Northwest Georgia for the first round of the state tournament.
But they had to beat Banks County first.
In a nip-and-tuck contest, Jefferson took the lead for good with 3:22 left when Andre Daniel’s bank shot gave the Dragons a 48-46 edge. But Jefferson never led by more than five the rest of the way as Banks County hit three three-pointers in the final 1:19. The Leopards finished with 10 threes on the night.
But the free throws were falling for Jefferson.
Daniel hit a pair with 40 seconds left to give Jefferson a 58-55 lead. Thompson followed with his six successful attempts down the stretch to cap one of his biggest offensive games of the year.
“I thought his shot selection was good,” DuBose said. “And he did a great job of nailing free throws.”
The Leopards, coached by former Jefferson assistant Mike Cleveland, had the hot hand for much of the game against Jefferson’s zone defense.
Banks County hit four three-pointers in the first half to take a 24-21 lead at the break. The Leopards hit three more in the third to up their advantage to 33-26, forcing Jefferson to switch to a man-to-man the rest of the way.
“I do think the man (dense) turned the game around,” DuBose said.
Will Puckett scored the last three baskets of the third quarter to cut Banks County’s lead to 38-36 heading into the fourth. Tyler Patrick then sank four straight free throws to start the final period, giving Jefferson a 40-38 lead.
Puckett finished with 10 points. Andrew Bartek added eight.
Jefferson plays Rabun County at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Hart County.