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Galax pulled off an 18-point turnaround in the final 10-plus minutes, rallying from a 14-point deficit into a final four-point advantage and handing Graham its first district loss of the year with a 54-50 Mountain Empire District triumph Friday evening.
Not coincidentally, the late turnaround almost matched the 19-point swing from the first meeting between the two teams, when Graham walked away with a 50-35 win in early January. Midway through the second half Friday it looked as if a repeat was in order. But following a timeout with 2:57 on the third-quarter clock and the Maroon Tide trailing 39-25, Galax outscored the G-Men 29-11 the rest of the way.
Slowly reeling in the G-Men one possession at a time, Galax took the lead for good, 51-50 on a Cliff Conley 3-pointer with 1:17 to play. The Maroon Tide’s top scorer, Conley had been limited to a single 3-pointer up to that point.
“We just told him to be patient,” said Galax coach Verl Brown.
Conley then drew a charge on the defensive end and the Tide got a Caleb Bartlett free throw out of the takeaway, and Chase Garvey iced the game with a defensive rebound and two foul shots with 2.5 seconds left.
Galax smothered the G-Men from the midcourt stripe with man-to-man pressure during its comeback, showing a defensive intensity that just wasn’t there in the first 19-plus minutes.
“We were disappointed at how we were getting beat off the dribble,” Brown said. “We feel like that’s our strongest point. We know every now and then that it’s going to happen, but our best defenders were getting beat.”
The result was either an easy Graham bucket or a Galax foul. Graham missed just two shots from inside the arc until the midpoint of the third quarter and attempted 21 free throws in the first half while Galax didn’t attempt its first foul shot until the 1:23 mark of the third. Graham’s Colby Hill, who led all scorers with 15 points, had 10 points by halftime, including the 1,000th of his career on a drive late in the half.
“We challenged them at halftime, told them to quit whining about the officiating because we were causing our teammates to draw fouls by getting beat,” Brown said. “So we did a better job of that in the second half.”
Brown also challenged his guys to be more aggressive with the ball in their hands. His advice didn’t fall upon deaf ears. Dominic DiGiacomo scored six of his eight points in the fourth quarter, all on slashes to the basket, and Darian Brown put up nine of his 11 in the second half, including five in the fourth when he dropped in identical left-handed half-hooks, the second one resulting in a three-point play. DiGiacomo finished a fast break, scored on a running one-hander and, following a Chandler Quesenberry coast-to-coast sprint for a score, DiGiacomo scored off a cut to pull Galax to within 49-48 with 1:42 left.
Bolstered by 13-of-21 free throw shooting and 7-of-8 accuracy from inside the arc, Graham took a 27-22 halftime lead. The G-Men opened the second half by ripping off a 12-3 run, capped by a Tony Hood transition bucket for a 39-25 lead.
“That’s a great ballteam,” Verl Brown said of Graham. “They’re very disciplined, and his first seven are as strong as anybody’s. They play defense well, and you saw how they can shoot free throws.”
Roman Workman added 12 points and Nick Morgan 11 for the G-Men. Darian Brown was Galax’s sole double-figure scorer with 11 and Garvey finished with nine points and seven boards.
Quesenberry, who scored six, started the game wearing a protective facemask and may re-think his decision to jettison the thing before the end of the first quarter.
“I told Chandler I’d give him a kiss if he didn’t worry about shooting and just ran the team and got us into what we needed to be in,” Verl Brown said. “He did that, so I gave him a little smack on the jaw…The good thing about this team is they’re starting to accept their roles, I was excited about the bench being supportive, and that’s the sort of things we’ve got to do if we want to go anywhere.”
Graham......12 15 13 10––50
Galax..........11 11 10 22––54
Graham (10-5, 5-1)
Hood 2 2-3 6, Morgan 3 5-8 11, Workman 5 2-7 12, Clarke 1 1-2 3, Hill 4 6-8 15, Miller 0 2-5 2. Totals 15 18-33 50.
Galax (10-3, 4-1)
K.Brown 1 0-0 3, Bartlett 0 1-2 1, Conley 2 0-0 6, D.Brown 5 1-2 11, Peoples 2 0-0 4, Quesenberry 2 1-2 6, Pack 3 0-0 6, Garvey 3 3-5 9, DiGiacomo 4 0-0 8. Totals 22 6-11 54.
Three-point field goals – Graham 1-8 (Hill), Galax 4-10 (Conley 2, K.Brown, Quesenberry). Rebounds – Graham 21 (Workman 8), Galax 29 (Garvey 7). Turnovers – Graham 10, Galax 11. Team fouls – Graham 14, Galax 23. Fouled out – Morgan, Peoples, DiGiacomo. Technical fouls – none.
JV – Graham won.