Defense was the name of the game at Bulloch Academy on Friday night.
Bulloch senior center John Cornett finally put all the pieces together to dominate on both offense and defense as he led the Gators to a 47-39 victory over Westminster of Augusta in a key GISA Region 4-AAA contest.
Cornett played strong in the middle on both ends of the court and scored a game-high 16 points.
“His forte is playing solid defense and grabbing rebounds,” said BA head coach Chandler Dennard. “He did an excellent job controlling the middle. All of our guys played hard on defense. That is how we’ve been surviving.”
Bulloch (13-3 overall and 4-1 in region play) was minus senior point guard Jaylen Evans, who was in Indiana for his grandmother’s funeral. Junior Ross Rainey got the call to handle the rock.
“The guard set with Ross, Themba Twala and Forrest Spence worked well,” said Dennard. “It took a little while to find our rhythm because Jaylen has been our point guard for the past two seasons. But I thought all of our guys did a good job stepping up to the challenge.”
Spence netted 10 points while Rainey and Twala had four respectively. But the unselfish German exchange student had numerous assists which led to a total team effort. Seniors Hosea Jones and Clayton Rogers combined for 11 points.
The Gators and the Wildcats battled hard in the first half as neither squad would give up the easy shot in the defensive war. Bulloch’s quick man outran the Wildcats (12-5, 2-2) but Westminster’s 2-1-2 zone held firm as the Gators tried to drive for the high-percentage shot. Bulloch took a 9-6 lead at the end of the first eight minutes and a 14-12 advantage at halftime.
In the third, it continued to be nip-and-tuck. WSA’s Austen Stokes scored seven of his team-high 13 points in the quarter. But Bulloch began to creep away when Spence buried a three at the 4:45 mark for a 21-18 lead. The Gators eased out to a five-point lead and then a seven-point advantage, 27-20, when Twala had an aggressive rebound and putback with 1:41 left. Cornett hit one of two from the free-throw line with 6.7 remaining for a 29-22 lead at the
“We struggled in the first half against their zone,” said Dennard. “But we woke up offensively in the second half.”
Bulloch led by as many as 13 in the fourth before Westminster, led by Matthew Tebbs, made a late run to cut the score in half. Tebbs had 12 for the Wildcats.
The Gators travel to Martinez to battle region foe Augusta Prep next Tuesday.
Bulloch 43, Westminster 35
Lady Gator freshman Ashley Burke may be only a little over five-feet tall and weigh 100 pounds but she plays strong defense.
Burke helped spark a third-quarter rally with her aggressive play and good ball-handling skills as the Lady Gators beat Westminster of Augusta 43-35 in a pivotal region game.
“I thought Ashley had one of her better games,” said BA head coach Paul Webb. “I was impressed with the way everybody played on defense.”
Junior forward Anna Newton netted 12 points, Burke scored 11 while big sister Haley had 10 in the low-scoring contest.
“It was a big victory for us,” said Webb. “We are trying to win all of our region games at home and pick up road wins when we can.”
One reason the Lady Gators improved to 17-2 overall and 3-1 in the region was the job that was done on Westminster leading scorer Anna Hearon.
“Our defense is designed to stop players,” said Webb. “Lauren Dennard, Mary Margaret Reeves and Marianne Peebles did a great job on stopping their leading scorer Hearon. She was averaging about 14 per game and she had only six tonight.”
The squads sparred in the opening quarter as both used man-on-man defenses and tight presses. The action was quick but clean. Both squads had sharp perimeter passing, good shot selections and boxed out.
“Both teams played really hard and had great defenses,” said Webb.
Bulloch took an 11-10 lead at the end of the opening quarter. In the second, the elder Burke went on a tear, scoring eight. Her three-pointer at the 3:58 mark gave the Lady Gators a 19-12 lead. BA took a 25-18 lead into the locker room.
In the third, the younger Burke gave Bulloch a 10-point lead, 31-21, with 4:42 left on a layup off an inbounds steal. On the night, she had three steals, four assists and three rebounds. Newton and senior Taylor Collins proceeded to dominate the boards on both ends of the court. Newton had six while Collins added five. The Lady Gators outscored WSA 10-5 for a 35-23 lead at the buzzer.
Westminster (11-4, 2-2) mounted a huge comeback in the final quarter, going on an 11-4 run to cut the BA’s lead to five, 39-34, with a little over a minute to play. But Ashley Burke and Newton nailed their free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.
The Lady Gators take on the Lady Cavaliers Tuesday in Augusta.