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Basketball: Denmark tops South Forsyth as Whitlock collects 100th win
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Denmark head coach Tyler Whitlock motions to his team Tuesday during the Danes' 60-44 win against South Forsyth. The win marked Whitlock's 100th career victory. - photo by David Roberts

As the clocked ticked down toward the end of Tuesday's game between Denmark and South Forsyth, two facts became evident. 

The Danes had topped the rival War Eagles 60-44 and head coach Tyler Whitlock had notched his 100th win.

When the buzzer sounded, confetti streamed into the air and Denmark's players offered a formal congratulation of handshakes and hugs to their head coach. They saved a more rowdy celebration for the locker room, when they mobbed Whitlock and doused him with water.

"It's a real blessing," Whitlock said. "It's more of a testament to the great kids that I've gotten to coach. Players are what make coaches, so just them buying in and being phenomenal kids — it's really a celebration of the work that they've put in."

Denmark trailed only twice Tuesday, both occurring in the opening minutes. 

Teddy Toth buried his first of three 3-pointers and a layup by Josh Muleta made it 5-2, but back-to-back buckets by Kourtland Tolbert and Jayden Hilliman put the Danes in front. And after another Toth 3-pointer, Avery Barnett returned fire with a trey of his own to make it 11-8.

Denmark never trailed again.

Hilliman led all scorers with 16 points, adding eight rebounds and drawing a charge in the third quarter.

"He's been phenomenal for us all season long this year," Whitlock said of Hilliman. "He's really stepped up. Last year he was the ultimate role guy. Now he's taking on a new role with us losing Joseph Scott and Sutton Smith. He's plugged in and become an offensive threat being able to finish at the basket and hitting some 15-foot shots and in. It's just been great to see him grow."

Scott and Smith were sophomores during the 2018-19 season, when the Danes won 24 games and reached the Class 4A Elite Eight.

Both players are now playing college basketball, and Denmark is learning how to win without those foundational players.

"I would say it's twofold. Sutton set such a great example for the team," Whitlock said. "We still have several guys who were part of that team for the last couple years. They were around him, so they learned how to work like he did and learned how to understand and study the game like he did. Then the other aspect, last year we knew Sutton was there to bail us out. Now, all of a sudden, guys feel the opportunity to actually take a shot that they wouldn't have in the past, and try to make a play that they would rely on Sutton doing last year. So, it's been great to see some guys start to fill that out and learn that about themselves."

Seven different Denmark players scored, as Stefan Davidov also landed in double figures with 14 points.

Davidov scored all of his points in the second half, including a putback and a layup midway through the third quarter to cap an 11-0 run. 

Jackson Spitzer stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws, but by then the Danes had built a 39-21 lead.

"He has put a lot of time into his game this offseason," Whitlock said of Davidov. "He was a mid-range and a 3-point shooter last year. He's gotten to where he can get to the rim. He has great footwork and reading of the defense so he can finish at the rim now, which has been a great plus. What I've been most impressed with since the beginning of this season is, he's come in to the locker room for the last four or five games and said, 'I want the best player on the other team,' and he's held his own."

Spitzer came alive in the third quarter, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the frame to give the War Eagles a presence in the post. He also collected seven rebounds.

Toth added 10 points, while Baylor Hicks had eight points and Ron Kommoji finished with six fourth-quarter points.

South played without talented senior Ethan Underwood.

"When they've got an All-Region player that's sitting on the bench, that definitely helps," Whitlock said. "I knew that he didn't play this past weekend, but I wasn't completely sure, so we gameplanned for him to play unsure if he was going to play. For us, we wanted to play hard and wanted to keep them off the glass and just hope they didn't shoot the ball well from outside, because when they get hot, they're a really, really difficult team."

Meanwhile, Denmark spread the ball around on the perimeter, as Sean Patterson had two 3-pointers, and Vaughn Garcia, Tomas Koski and Barnett each had one.

Denmark [5-6, 2-1 Region 6-7A] will face Providence Christian Academy at 5 p.m. Saturday, while South will host Johns Creek at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 21.