South Forsyth head coach Scott Givens didn’t mince words with his team during a timeout early in the third quarter.
After watching his team fall behind 39-22 Tuesday on the road at Forsyth Central, Givens called a timeout and didn’t draw up any plays. Instead, he gave his team two options — lay down or compete.
Not wanting to end the regular season on a sour note, his War Eagles chose to compete.
Trailing by 17 points with 6:05 remaining in the third quarter, the War Eagles closed the period on an 18-4 run and then got the game into overtime behind the stellar play of junior point guard Caleb Underwood to complete the comeback and win the game in stunning fashion, 63-60.
After leading the game 2-0, the War Eagles didn’t lead again until the overtime period of the Region 6-7A contest.
“I’m proud of them,” Givens said. “To be down 17, wow. Outstanding. That’s how you respond. Sometimes those speeches work and sometimes they don’t. I guess tonight it did.”
When the War Eagles started to get back into the game midway through the third quarter, Bulldogs head coach Brandon Hutchins elected to keep the game going. He was finally forced to burn a timeout 4:30 into the run after the War Eagles had trimmed the deficit to seven points.
Underwood then finished the quarter on a quick 4-0 run by himself to trim Central’s lead to 43-40 heading into the fourth quarter. That capped an 18-4 run over the final 6:05 of the third quarter.
That set up for a thrilling back-and-fourth final eight minutes of regulation with both teams doing everything they could to gain an edge.
South freshman Charlie Gersmehl turned it into a 20-4 run and cut the Central lead to one point at 43-42 after a layup on the War Eagles' first possession of the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs quickly answered back.
They built their lead back up to five points after senior point guard Aidan Nutty drilled a 3-pointer with 5:25 left in regulation. He then gave the hosts a seven-point lead at 51-44 after getting an acrobatic layup to go down with 4:14 left.
Hutchins called only his second timeout of the second half a minute later with his team leading 55-49 with 3:17 left in regulation.
But it was the War Eagles (10-15, 5-5) who responded the best after the timeout and got the deficit back down to just three points with 2:06 remaining after a free throw from Gersmehl.
Central’s Kalil Cobrun looked to make it a two-possession game on their next possession, but his 3-point attempt went in and out.
With a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer, Underwood elected to do it the hard way. The junior drove to the basket with his left hand and got fouled while making the basket to send him to the free throw line with a chance to knot the game at 55.
Underwood nailed the free throw to complete the comeback after trailing by 17 points early in the third quarter. It took a 33-16 run over the next 13 minutes to achieve it.
Looking to get the lead back, the Bulldogs fired off another 3-pointer, this time from Camp Wyatt, and again it rimmed out with 54 seconds left on the clock.
The War Eagles’ comeback was almost for naught after they turned the ball over near midcourt with under 30 seconds remaining on the clock and the game still tied at 55.
Like earlier in the game, the Bulldogs (3-22, 1-9) elected not to use a timeout to set up a potential game-winning play, but instead, they struggled to get a good shot off in the closing seconds. Wyatt was eventually able to fire off an unbalanced mid-range baseline jumper that missed as time expired.
In overtime, Underwood and Gersmehl continued their stellar play for the War Eagles. Gersmehl gave them a 57-55 lead, their first lead since the game was 2-0 in the first quarter.
Wyatt answered back with a baseline jumper to knot the game at 57, but a nice play from Underwood to Gersmehl led to an easy pick-and-roll floater to give the War Eagles the lead back for good.
Underwood went on to make four huge free throws in 1-and-1 situations over the final 20.6 seconds to close out the game with a three-point win.
After being held to just five points in the first half, Underwood exploded for 19 in the second half to finish with a game-high 24. Givens also gave a lot of credit to DeMauri Brown, who came off the bench and scored 10 points. Gersmehl finished his night with 13.
Wyatt and Nutty both scored 14 points in the loss for the Bulldogs, who will be the No. 6 seed in the region tournament and face third-seeded Milton in the first round Feb. 11 at West Forsyth. The No. 4 seed War Eagles will face the fifth-seeded host Wolverines in the opening round of the tournament.
“Caleb is an all-region player,” Givens said. “He was outstanding again. How about those free throws? He was 4-for-4 in overtime and made his last seven. All of the credit to Central. Defensively, their game plan was good. They were outstanding for two and a half quarters and then somehow a light switch came on for us.”
South Forsyth girls dismantle Central, finish with perfect region record
South Forsyth could hardly miss from 3-point range in the first half.
The War Eagles used the long ball to build an early lead Tuesday on the road at Forsyth Central and continued to knock them down on their way to a big 68-22 win to cap off the regular season with a perfect 10-0 record in Region 6-7A play.
They will now gear up for the region tournament and will look to win their first region championship since 2015.
“These girls had a goal to set a standard that hadn’t been set at our school before,” South head coach Keith Gravitt said. “They wanted to do some things tonight and I think they set that tone early, defensively. A lot of our open looks came off defense, great hustle and finding open teammates. We had 25 assists tonight. I’m proud of the team for matching the energy that we asked them to bring.”
All-in-all, the War Eagles buried 11 3-pointers on the night, four of which came from senior guard Clara Morris. Senior Sharon Tolliver knocked down three, while Leah Bagwell also contributed with a pair. Tolliver led the way with 13 points, while Morris and Bagwell each scored 12 in the win for the War Eagles.
But what made their shooting performance impressive was the way they shot the ball to start off the game.
Tolliver wasted no time giving the War Eagles a 3-0 lead on their first possession of the game with a 3-pointer, and Maggie Thompson later extended the lead to 8-0 after the team’s second shot from long distance.
The War Eagles led 12-0 before the Bulldogs were able to get on the board with a layup, and by the end of the first quarter, they held a commanding 23-7 lead on 5-of-7 shooting from behind the arc.
Defensively, the War Eagles gave the Bulldogs fits all night. The Bulldogs didn’t attempt a shot until Hailey Berman’s layup gave the hosts their first points of the night nearly four minutes into the game.
The Bulldogs managed to shoot 50% from the field in the first quarter (3-for-6), but they turned the ball over eight times, including on their first six possessions in a row to start the game.
With Gravitt going to his second unit early and often Tuesday night, the War Eagles’ 3-point attempts cooled off in the second quarter. However, they still managed to go 2-for-3 from long distance, both of which were scored by Morris.
By halftime, the War Eagles led 39-11.
The War Eagles struggled to find a rhythm in the third quarter and scored just seven points. But with the starting unit back out on the court to start the fourth, they used a quick 10-0 run that included a Tolliver corner 3-pointer to go out on a high note.
The second unit scored the final 12 points, and Bagwell nailed the 11th and final 3-pointer of the night in the closing minutes.
With the win, the War Eagles finish off the regular season with a 22-3 record and a perfect 10-0 region record. But with an important region tournament ahead, they’re not celebrating just yet.
“I’m proud of these girls,” Garvitt said. “It’s easy to lose focus sometimes and they haven’t. They’ve kept the big picture in mind. The region regular season schedule only gets you a place for your region tournament. You’ve got to go play there and that’s what matters. We’ve still got big games left ahead of us to play."