Needing to shoot well from the perimeter, the Bulldogs were a collective 0-for-11 from outside the arc at halftime and 0-for-16 after three quarters.
“I know Hokes Bluff played good defense but a lot of those shots were as open as in other games,” Piedmont coach Tommy Lewis said. “We had practiced well all week, shot well, and I anticipated a good shooting night. I think when we did not start off hot it snowballed into something that was as much in our heads as it was in the defense. Also, we have gone into both Hokes Bluff games expecting to shoot from outside. Maybe I should have used reverse psychology and said we were not going to shoot from behind the arc.”
Denard Spears and Darnell Jackson each had two 3-point baskets in the fourth quarter while Ty Sparks and Easton Kirk had one trey apiece as Piedmont out-pointed Hokes Bluff 22-16 in the final eight minutes. The 22 points the Bulldogs netted in the fourth quarter almost equaled the 23 they scored in the first three quarters combined.
“I did a poor job of preparing them, in part because Hokes Bluff is so unlike the vast majority of our schedule,” Lewis added. “With big area games against totally different styles the next week, we just emphasized getting ready for Weaver and Saks with most of our work. Hokes Bluff is good but they are so unique because of Isaac. It just allows them to do some things most everyone else cannot do. I guess we just approached Hokes Bluff with a ‘let’s just try to get ahead’ but it did not work either game.”
Spears finished with 12 points, 10 in the fourth quarter, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Jackson had nine points, five rebounds and two steals. Taylor Hayes scored eight points. Sparks had five points, Dreek Thompson four, Kirk three, Neonta Alexander two and Exavyer Jackson two.
Following the 61-57 loss to Hayesville, Piedmont blasted Murphy (N.C.) 76-47 on December 27. It was 11-10 Bulldogs after one quarter then Piedmont won the remaining quarters 23-9, 22-12 and 20-16. Spears and Sparks each recorded 14 points. Thompson had 11 points. Hayes and Kirk had seven points each. Austin Brazier netted six points and Tyler Lusk scored five. Darnell Jackson tallied four, Alexander three, Bayley Blanchard two, Wil Mitchell two and Caleb Adams one.
In the consolation final on December 28, the Bulldogs beat a solid Union County (Ga.) team 68-61. Union County led 18-14 after one quarter. Piedmont turned a four-point deficit into a five-point lead by winning the second quarter 20-11. The Bulldogs led just 53-50 when the third quarter ended. In the fourth, Spears had five on his game-best 17 points. Darnell Jackson had six points in the fourth, including 4-for-4 at the free throw line, and ended with 15 points. Thompson scored 12 points. Adams and Hayes each had five points. Brazier canned a trey and a free throw for four points. Lusk and Blanchard had three points apiece. Sparks and Exavyer Jackson each scored two points.
“We were kind of in the same pattern at the Battle of the States as we are in our other games,” Lewis said. “Sometimes it looks like we have established some type of pattern of play. Then, without notice, we kind of lose our identity and put ourselves in very tough situations but overall they played 11 good quarters out of the 12 we played there.”
Piedmont’s area game at home with Saks, scheduled for January 7, was postponed and rescheduled for Thursday, January 16. The Bulldogs host Weaver in area play Friday and are hoping for a game at Skyline Saturday. Piedmont travels to Ashville on Monday of next week then hosts Wellborn Tuesday.