In hindsight, a game might end up decided in the first few minutes as easily as the last.
That was North Forsyth coach Bobby Pless’s takeaway Friday night, after his Raiders fell 67-61 to visiting North Gwinnett.
The Raiders cut a 53-43 deficit after three quarters to two points in the final minute, but Pless couldn’t help but wonder what might have been if not for a first quarter that saw North outscored 23-16.
“First quarter’s the problem. We get outscored seven points and we lost by six. First quarter’s the problem,” Pless said.
After trailing essentially the entire game, North (10-13 overall, 4-12 Region 7-AAAAA) went on a little fourth-quarter run, sparked largely by junior guard Riley Smith, who had 12 of his 21 points in the final period.
Smith nailed a three-pointer with 34 seconds left to cut it to 63-61. Looking to force a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play, North instead was whistled for reaching in, and the Bulldogs hit both free throws to make it a two-possession game again.
Pless echoed some of his same comments after Smith had recorded a 32-point outing earlier in the week.
“Like I said against South Forsyth [Tuesday], he’s just playing on both ends of the floor. A lot of times you see players that can score but are not very good defenders, that don’t really make their teammates better, but Riley makes everybody better,” Pless said.
“He’s fun to watch. I just wish we could get a few breaks to go our way on some other stuff.”
North Gwinnett’s Conner Day did Smith one point better, scoring a game-high 22 and missing only two shots for the game, according to Pless.
Kyle Branch had 12 points for North Gwinnett, while Chris Smith scored 10 for North Forsyth.
“Kids battled hard. The effort’s there,” Pless said.
“I said [before the season], ‘You’ve got to learn to compete before you can win,’ and we had to start with these Gwinnett teams this year, just trying to compete, to give ourselves a chance.”
North finishes up the regular season this week, playing host to Norcross on Tuesday before traveling to Chattahoochee on Friday.