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Basketball: Nutty's 3s, Chol's big night spark Forsyth Central past Denmark

Forsyth Central needed a spark.

Luckily, head coach Brandon Hutchins knew just where to find it.

Aidan Nutty came off the bench Friday to hit back-to-back-to-back three pointers against Denmark, giving the Bulldogs a lead they never squandered in a 47-34 victory to open Region 6-7A play.

"I think it shows the work this group has put in," Hutchins said. "They believed in our system when I got here three years ago. They believe in each other, they care for each other and they want to win. Coach Whitlock does a great job and they're very well coached and play hard, so for us to walk out of here on the road is huge for our program and for our guys."

Denmark led 10-4 at the end of the first quarter, but Nutty's first 3-pointer at the wing allowed Central to take its first lead of the game. His second trey gave the Bulldogs a two-point lead and his third 3-poitner made it 21-16 with 1:00 left in the second quarter.

"He's kind of our Energizer bunny," Hutchins said. "He comes in and plays with just reckless abandon. He's a junior who played JV last year and has just worked his butt off. He's hit some big shots for us."

Eli Chol scored a game-high 20 points and also had seven rebounds, a couple of blocks and a dunk with 3:37 left in the third quarter that pushed the Bulldogs' lead to 12 points and spurred a Denmark timeout. 

Denmark managed to cut the lead to four points soon after the timeout when Jayden Hilliman brought down a rebound and dished to Kourtland Tolbert, who buried a three. Tolbert followed up that possession with a dunk of his own. The Danes got as close as they would all night when Avery Barnett connected on a three pointer, converted a steal into a couple of successful free throws, then made an acrobatic layup under the basket to make it 38-34.

Denmark had a chance to make it a one-possession game after the Bulldogs were whistled for a travel, but the Danes turned the ball over, which led to Camden Leak driving toward the basket for a layup right in front of a wired Central student section. 

Another Denmark turnover on the following possession allowed Chol to make an easy layup, which gave the Bulldogs a 45-34 lead in the final minutes.

"He's worked hard. He played big-time AAU this summer and put in the work," Hutchins said of Chol. "I keep telling all these college coaches, 'He's a diamond in the rough." He's thin but he can jump and he can handle the ball. I'm so proud of just the improvement he's made in the past year. It's incredible."

Denmark had plenty of offensive rhythm in the first quarter. Stefan Davidov drained two three-pointers, Tolbert scored a couple of layups and the Danes were able to time their jumps at the basket and work around the 6-foot-10 Chol. 

But Central settled into its two-three zone and held Davidov to just two points after the first quarter.

"I think it allowed us to get out where they were comfortable shooting the ball, and with Eli and how much he's improved and the way he's stepped up his game, he just gets in your head there in the middle," Hutchins said. "Our guys just played it with energy and we closed down on their shooters and did what we had to do."

Each team has a quick turnaround, with Denmark [2-5, 0-1 Region 6-7A] facing Galloway at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Central [5-2, 1-0 Region 6-7A] hosting Alpharetta at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Central's victory gives the Bulldogs some momentum and follows their 55-54 win over Mountain View earlier this week, a game where Hutchins saw his team start to click.

"Forsyth Central just didn't have that mantra that we're going to battle, and I've been trying to build that here, like, 'Hey, you've got to battle and you've got to compete,'" Hutchins said. "I think these guys finally believed it. They love each other and they fight for each other, and you see what you get."