The North Oconee girls basketball team maintained its winning ways last Friday.
The Lady Titans hosted Chestatee High School, a Region 8-AAAA foe, and won 54-41.
That win improved North Oconee to 7-4 overall with a 2-1 record in region action.
For the Lady Titans, Friday’s victory was a strong overall effort.
“We played great,” Maddy Dickens said. “The defense was good but we can get better at defense. On offense, we attacked the rim and got the ball in the basket.”
Callie Jackson got North Oconee started early by hitting a 3-pointer soon after the game started. Chestatee responded with a bucket of its own to make it 3-2 and the game remained tight through the first quarter.
The Lady Titans trailed 14-13 after the first period after one of the Lady War Eagles drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
North Oconee seemed to be pulling away as the second quarter wore on. A steal by M.K. Long set up an easy layup for Jackson, which gave North Oconee a 27-18 lead at the 1:30 mark.
However, Chestatee hung around and, thanks to a 3-point play with 9.8 seconds left in the half, had the deficit down to 27-22 at halftime.
But by then, North Oconee’s offense had found a groove. Head coach Erick Willis said that was due to his players taking advantage of Chestatee’s approach.
“[Chestatee] switched defenses several times but they were having to help when we were driving,” Willis said. “Anytime you help, you give up a shot and we have good shooters. So, we took advantage of driving to the basket, kicking out and finding our friends.”
The Lady Titans’ defense picked up a little more in the third quarter. They used numerous steals to increase their advantage and, by the end of the third, they were up 40-28 after Annika Bonds drained a mid-ranger jumper at the buzzer.
Chestatee threatened a few comeback attempts in the fourth quarter.
The lead was down to 40-32 by a timeout at the 6:20 mark. It was a 42-33 game before Aiyanna Peavy sliced her way through the Lady War Eagles defense for a layup with 3:20 to play.
Chestatee had it down to a 46-39 score with a little over a minute left. Dickens iced the game at the free throw line to secure the region victory.
While most of North Oconee’s first-half points came from outside the paint, an adjustment to Chestatee’s defense meant the Lady Titans could drive inside more frequently during the third and fourth quarters.
“In the second half, they spread out on us a good bit on defense and that's why we got a lot of lane drives,” Willis said. “They gave a lot of pressure on the guards. When you do that, you're susceptible to giving up drives.”
When asked what allowed her and her teammates to record so many steals during the game, particularly in the second half, Dickens pointed to their efforts in practice as the reason.
“We practice that a lot,” Dickens said. “We just read it. We know where they're going to go with the ball, so we just jump it.”
Friday’s game was a complete performance by the Lady Titans but Willis said he wants to see his team decrease its number of turnovers.
That will come with time, Willis said, as his young players get more game reps.
“I think we're just a little inexperienced handling the ball,” Willis said. “It's not anything that we're doing wrong; we're just making a late decision. It's just experience. It's just gonna happen occasionally and we've got to be OK with a turnover every now and then.”
North Oconee is scheduled to host Jefferson this Friday before renewing its rivalry against Oconee County in a home bout Saturday evening. The Lady Titans will then return to the thick of region competition.
As his team prepares for the most important stretch of the season, Willis said he wants the Lady Titans to continue with their current efforts.
“There's no secret to what we do; everybody knows what we do,” he said. “We've just got to keep improving on what we do. ... Keep putting the ball in the basket. We get a lot of good shots, so we need to make them. We shoot the ball pretty well, so I've been excited about that.”