Friday night proved rewarding for Banks County basketball, both for the boys and girls. The Lady Leopards took down Pepperell 50-32, while the Leopards fought back in the second half to take down a hot-shooting Coosa, 67-51.
LADY LEOPARDS 52, PEPPERELL 30
Banks County (24-5) shook off a quick 5-0 deficit en route to a 52-30 win over Pepperell to advance to the Sweet 16. Allison Smith scored a game-high 25 points, including 15 in the second half. Maddie Thomas and Amber Williams both ended with 10 points, while Jaycie Bowen had four on two late buckets.
The Lady Leopards were up 11-7 after one quarter and stretched the lead to 26-17 going into the break. A low-scoring third quarter produced just nine points for each team, but the home team used a 17-4 fourth quarter to cruise into the Sweet 16!
LEOPARDS 67, COOSA 51
The Leopards (25-4) survived a huge scare Friday night in the opening round of the state playoffs, pulling away late for a 67-51 win over Coosa, who came in not at all looking like a four-seed. Banks County was playing without arguably its most dynamic player in sophomore Carl Cleveland, who injured his ankle on Thursday.
Cleveland instead made a different vocally, often times looking like a coach on the bench while stuck in a walking boot. Gabe Martin came up huge with 21 points and 6 rebounds, while Dylan Orr posted 14 points and 22 rebounds. Darius Bonds (14 pts, 12 ast, 7 reb) nearly posted a triple-double, while Bosko Norman and Gatlin Lunsford had 10 and 8 points, respectively, giving life to the Leopards late.
Coosa came out with Kenon Dixon drilling four 3-pointers in the opening quarter, giving the Eagles a 20-14 lead. The teams traded baskets in the second quarter, leaving Coosa up 35-30 heading into the locker room.
Bonds hit another level in the third quarter, draining a tray before converting an incredible three-point play to pull within a point. Moments later, after a Coosa bucket, Bonds delivered again with a triple to tie the game at 41 apiece. Orr’s layup with 2:40 to go in the quarter gave Banks its first lead of the ball game at 45-43.
Norman tallied six of the next eight points for the Leopards to ignite the crowd, while Lunsford hit a 3-pointer early in the fourth to take a 56-49 lead. It was all Banks County from there, as Coosa began to come back down to earth. Banks outscored the Eagles 16-4 in the final eight minutes to advance to the Sweet 16.
“You don’t lose a kid like Carl [Cleveland] on Thursday and make an adjustment in one day,” says coach Mike Cleveland. “We had to make some changes on the fly. I knew somebody was going to have to step up big – and Bosko [Norman] did that tonight.”
On Coosa’s unbelievable shooting performance in the first half, coach Cleveland said he didn’t get too worried about it.
“I probably watched them 7 or 8 games this year and once live…I haven’t seen them shoot like this. My message to the defense at halftime was to keep your hands up…they’re not gonna keep shooting like that.”
While it was a bit closer than Banks County fans would like with the Leopards as a #1-seed, nothing is to be taken for granted.
“Every win now is special,” states Cleveland. “I’m really pleased.”
Guys like Lunsford and Norman stepped up to help get this win.
“Gatlin doesn’t get enough credit on this team,” says Cleveland. “Kids today want instant gratification; he played on JV as a junior last year, and just worked his tail off, played football and still found time to come in and put the work in. He helped us big time win a first round state playoff game tonight. He’s a special player, and I hope kids take notice of that – not everything can be given to you.”
On Norman, we may be seeing signs of a recent Leopards great.
“Bosko reminds me a lot of Zez [Steeple],” says Cleveland. Steeple, an Erskine College sophomore guard, was a 1,000-point scorer at Banks County and one of the most electric players from the class of 2016. “As Bosko improves on his jumper, he’s going to remind a lot of people of Zez.”