North Forsyth at Forsyth Central
Pinecrest Academy’s boys nearly overcame both the absence of their top scorer and an early 10-0 deficit.
The Paladins trailed Wesleyan by only one point in the closing seconds, but a handful of critical calls and a turnover helped the Wolves escape with a 48-45 victory on Friday at Pinecrest.
The Paladins (2-2) played without junior forward Zach Guard, who is recovering from a knee injury. Guard averaged a team-best 17 points per game as a sophomore last season — second highest of any player in Forsyth County — when he was selected to the All-County first team.
Senior forward Austin Ward led Pinecrest with 11 points against Wesleyan, while sophomore point guard Nicklaus Palmer added 10.
"We had our opportunities," Paladins first year head coach Jay Lynch said. "We had the ball with [less than] 20 seconds down by one and we threw it away really quickly."
With Pinecrest trailing 46-45, John Paul Metz attempted to drive the baseline but collided with a Wesleyan (2-2) defender and stepped out of bounds with 19 seconds remaining. Pinecrest coaches and players argued for a foul, but Wesleyan was award possession of the ball.
Pinecrest stole the ball after the ensuing inbound play, but turned it back over to the Wolves a few seconds later on an errant pass. The Paladins tried to force a jump ball with 11.1 seconds remaining, but while one official signaled for it, another ruled that Wesleyan had called a timeout a split-second earlier.
The Paladins were forced to foul with 10.1 seconds remaining, and Will Clifton (game-high 20 points) knocked down both shots at the line to boost Wesleyan’s lead to three points.
Ward attempted two 3-pointers in the final seven seconds, but both were partially blocked and the second fell to the floor as time expired.
The Paladins dropped to 0-5 all-time against the Wolves, but Friday’s game seemed to show that the team has made strides since entering the Georgia High School Association in 2010. Three of Pinecrest’s first four losses to the Wolves came by 23 points or more.
"I am completely proud of the boys," Lynch said. "We played better in that game than we had in any of our first three games."
Pinecrest ended the first period on a 7-0 run after falling behind 10-0, and the Wolves never led by more than five points from that point forward. The score was separated by only three points or less at the end of each of the four periods.
"I think we just calmed down and ran our offense," Lynch said. "[Our players] were really excited for this game and our spacing was off. They just settled in and I was pretty confident we were going to compete with these guys."
The Paladins pulled ahead by one point three different times in the second half, including a 34-33 lead entering the fourth quarter, but they were never able to extend the advantage.
Close games have been a theme for the Paladins early this season, as three of their first four contests have been decided by four points or less.
"Having all these tight games that we’re competing in ... I think we’re off to a great start," Lynch said. "I want to get them ready for the end of the season to really make a run at that region tournament."
The Lady Paladins were off Friday night, but both Pinecrest squads were scheduled to face Our Lady of Mercy on the road Saturday (results not available at press time). The Paladins return home to face Fellowship Christian at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.