The Class 3A, Area 10 tournament will be at Weaver this year and will open Friday. Host Weaver will play No. 4 White Plains at 6 p.m. No. 3 Piedmont will play No. 2 Saks immediately thereafter. The Bulldogs once again are playing well as the postseason approaches. Not all the well-played games have resulted in wins but they have kept the Bulldogs moving in the right direction.
“We have been playing better since the week before the county tournament,” Piedmont coach Tommy Lewis said Tuesday morning, prior to Tuesday night’s final regular season game at home against Pisgah. “We just put ourselves in some tough to win situations by our choices. I hope that we are sharpening some of the smaller points of the game so that maybe near the end of games we might be a little better off score-wise. We need to improve from the free throw line, hustle and pay attention better during dead times but those are certainly things we can accomplish if we will just continue to defend hard and shoot like we know we can.”
Piedmont now has a three-game winning streak after its double overtime loss to Alexandria in the Calhoun County tournament. The Bulldogs extended the run with a 62-60 win at home over Cherokee County Saturday and a 58-43 victory at Jacksonville Monday. The streak began with a 79-54 victory at home over Ashville on Jan. 27. In all three games, the Bulldogs won the rebounding battle against larger teams.
“We hope that we are learning to minimize any defensive disadvantage size may cause us by taking advantage of the possible offensive advantage it might provide us,” Lewis said. “The last three opponents all have had some size advantages - and Cherokee County and Jacksonville have tremendous guard play as well – so, yes, we were pleased with the defensive effort, especially against Ashville and Jacksonville.”
In the win over Cherokee County, Piedmont fell behind 17-8 after one quarter. In the final seconds of the second quarter, Dreek Thompson nailed a 3-point basket from the right corner and Denard Spears scored on a driving layup to cut the Warriors’ lead to 35-32 at the half.
Cherokee County led 46-44 after three quarters but Bayley Blanchard’s trey put Piedmont up 47-46 just 20 seconds into the fourth quarter. From there, the lead changed hands eight times. Taylor Hayes got a basket from the paint and a free throw and the Bulldogs led 50-48. Thompson netted another trey to make it 53-50. Baskets by Darnell Jackson earned Piedmont one-point leads at 55-54 and 57-56.
With 54 seconds left, Caleb Adams’ 3-pointer made it 60-58. The Warriors tied the game at 60-60 with 10 seconds to go but Spears drove the length of the floor for the winning basket with two seconds left. Cherokee County got a timeout with 1.7 seconds on the clock but could get only a desperation turn-around heave from near midcourt that didn’t come close.
Spears ended with 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. Thompson scored 12 points, including three triples, and added three rebounds. Jackson finished with 11 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists. Adams had five points and five rebounds. Hayes scored five points and was 3-for-3 at the free throw line. Blanchard and Tyler Lusk each had a 3-point bucket. Point guard Ty Sparks was 2-for-2 at the line, made two assists and pulled down four rebounds.
In Jacksonville, Piedmont led 10-8 after one quarter but trailed 21-14 with two minutes remaining in the second quarter. A 3-pointer by Lusk started Piedmont’s rally. Spears stole a rebound from a Jacksonville player then drove for a layup. Sparks scored on a feed from Lusk to make it 21-21 with 41 seconds to go in the half then gave the Bulldogs their 23-21 halftime lead with 3.7 seconds on the clock with a pair of free throws.
In the second half, Piedmont outscored the Golden Eagles 18-11 in the third quarter and 17-11 in the fourth. Spears had Piedmont’s first double-double of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds. He added four assists and two steals.
Sparks was 4-for-4 at the line and ended with 10 points. He dished out four assists as well. Jackson had a busy night with nine points, five rebounds, three steals, two blocks and two assists. Lusk had two treys on his way to eight points and added two assists and two rebounds. Adams ended with seven points and three rebounds and Thompson contributed five points and three boards.
In their last meeting on January 16, Saks edged Piedmont 57-56 on a buzzer-beater. Weaver downed Piedmont 72-71 on January 10.
“We have made a point of talking about the fact that we were a couple of points away from hosting the tournament so maybe they will view the (Saks) loss as a motivating factor instead of an omen,” Lewis said.