The defenses were the key in a basketball doubleheader between Southwest Wake Athletic 4A Conference rivals Middle Creek and Athens Drive on Friday night.
In the girls’ game, the Jaguars forced 36 turnovers and converted them into 28 points en route to completing a regular-season sweep of the Mustangs, 49-8.
Meanwhile, after a sluggish start by both boys’ teams, Middle Creek capitalized on some missed inside shots by its host in the late third quarter to pull away for a 61-46 triumph.
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Athens Drive (13-4, 5-4) scored the first five points of the game while forcing five turnovers.
However, Middle Creek (2-13, 1-7) rallied to tie the game at 5-all and had two chances to take the lead but missed a free throw and a layup with 1:52 on the clock.
The Jaguars got a free throw and a 3-pointer from Kyran Flowers to begin a 42-0 run to glide to the victory.
“We had a week break since our last game, and we’ve had exams,” AD head coach Dayna Jordan said. “Traditionally, we’ve had a tough time in starting out in these games, and tonight was not different.”
Then the defense, led by the seven steals of guard Robin Gallagher took over.
“It’s all about who we come out with our intensity,” said Gallagher, who had 16 points, five rebounds and five assists as well. “We did not do that those first five minutes. But we got it going defensively, and that translates to good shots and us coming together as a team.”
Middle Creek, which was outscored 24-0 and 11-0 in the second and third quarters, finally got back on the scoreboard when Christina Mitten hit a free throw with 7:21 left in the game.
Athens Drive (12-5, 6-3) led 17-16 at the half, but a layup by the Mustangs’ Ryan Tankelewicz put his team up 20-19 with 5:55 left in the third – a lead never relinquished.
Down five with a minute left, the Jaguars missed a layup and Middle Creek’s Jaquan Nesmith drilled a 3-pointer on the other end.
After two inside misses on the other end, Nesmith got control of the ball with 4 seconds left and threw up a long-distance trey that banked in to make it 38-27 for Middle Creek (8-8, 5-4) at the buzzer.
Nesmith sat out the first half due to missing practice time.
“I just wanted to make up for missing practice,” he said. “I had confidence as soon as I put them up.”
Athens head coach Robbie St. John said it wasn’t just the two 3s that hurt.
“It wasn’t a six-point swing, it was a 10-point swing,” he said. “We missed too many easy shots, and they took advantage.”
Guard Shammond Hicks led Middle Creek with 16 points, while forward Daniel Jackson had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Sophomore guard D.J. Robertson led the Jaguars with 12 points. He had 39 in the first meeting, which saw Athens Drive end an eight-year, 16-game losing streak to the Mustangs.