SPRING GARDEN - Spring Garden senior basketball players Will Ivey and Will Westbrook have had some big games throughout their careers for the Panthers, but not together during the same game.
That all changed on Saturday at home in a Class 1A, Area 10 clash with Collinsville.
Westbrook led all scorers with 19 points (13 in the second half) and 12 rebounds while Ivey contributed 16 points, 13 boards and three assists in propelling the Panthers to a 61-56 victory.
But even with the duo's big night, the game's biggest play came from freshman guard Dakota Lambert with 1:47 remaining in the fourth quarter.
With Spring Garden (5-10, 5-1) clinging to a 56-54 lead, Lambert drilled a 3-pointer and was fouled on the play. Lambert couldn't connect on the ensuing free throw, but he gave his team a five-point cushion that fourth-ranked Collinsville (12-6, 4-1) couldn't overcome.
Lambert finished with five points.
"I told him after the game that was the biggest play of the game," Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. "I think that stretched it out enough and we finally showed we could take care of the basketball a little bit. We didn't hit as many free throws as I wanted us to hit, but we hit enough down the stretch to win.
"That was a fun win in more ways than just the score. I saw some things that happened tonight that I loved seeing. That forces us into the (area tournament) race, and that was the whole intention of coming into the game tonight, to stay into the race. That was a big win for us."
Collinsville coach Jon Tidmore said his team "got out-physicalled and out-hustled tonight."
"That was the difference in the game," he said. "Our team effort wasn't very good tonight. We're just not very consistent right now. They (Westbrook and Ivey) dominated the game, both of them did. They were tougher than we were. They took it right to our teeth and made us like it."
Much like their Dec. 6 meeting, won by Collinsville, 48-47, the contest was close throughout. Collinsville held a 13-10 advantage at the end of the first quarter, but Spring Garden rallied to take a 32-27 lead on a steal and layup by Ben Ivey at the halftime buzzer. The two teams were deadlocked at 45 after three quarters.
That's when Will Ivey began to take things on his shoulders down the stretch. He scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
"I thought Will Ivey might have had the best game of his career tonight," Austin said. "He hit some threes. He was a great playmaker for his teammates. He made some awesome passes. He knocked down some shots in the paint."
Austin said Will Ivey and Westbrook's performances were the foundation for the Panthers' success, which in turn allowed several other Spring Garden players to step up and make plays.
"Jacob Black was right there with them. I thought he did an outstanding job tonight (13 points, six rebounds). Jay Prater didn't do bad. He wasn't hitting the three like we need him to, but he was helping us in other areas tonight. He was very smart with the ball in his hands, getting it to some other playmakers when he couldn't make a play. Sometimes when he's a shooter and not making shots, we still want him on the floor because people know he's a shooter and they guard him like a shooter. That kept the paint open tonight. A lot went to his side of the floor to start the second half. We'd slide him to the corner and got Westbrook one-on-one on the block some. Dakota and Ben Ivey, two freshmen, also played two big roles tonight. I was very proud of them."
Jalyn Martin led Collinsville with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Jeff Campbell also had 13 points. Dexter Jones and Tanner Nelson both contributed seven points. Austin Posey posted six points and Malik Mathis finished with five points and five boards.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A scary moment happened with just over a minute remaining in the game. Campbell and Lambert collided with each other chasing after a loose ball. Both players remained down on the court a few moments. When Cambell got to his feet, he stumbled to the Collinsville bench and collapsed with blood gushing from a cut above his left eyebrow. The game was stopped momentarily while Campbell was attended. Lambert also suffered a gash on the collision, but both players seemed to be fine.
Campbell later returned to the game with 25.9 seconds remaining and fouled out with 5.1 seconds to go.
Spring Garden 43, Collinsville 35
SPRING GARDEN - Coming off Christmas break with the Haralson County, Ga. Invitational Tournament championship in tow, Spring Garden basketball coach Ricky Austin felt the fifth-ranked Lady Panthers would come out inspired to play at home against Class 1A, Area 10 rival Collinsville on Saturday.
However, match-up problems with Collinsville 6-foot senior center Savannah Boyles made Spring Garden sluggish offensively, but somehow the homestanding Lady Panthers managed to pull off a 43-35 victory.
"I thought we defended her pretty well, but we missed too many easy shots and that set the tone for us," Austin said. "When Tookie (Tykeah Rogers) and Haley (Motes) missed shots, everybody looked to me panicked. Both of them missed some crucial, easy buckets, but a lot of that had to do with Savannah affecting shots inside. We won the game, but I thought Collinsville out-played us. We were fortunate to come out with a win."
Darian Gaines led Spring Garden (13-2, 5-0) with 11 points. Rogers added 10 points, eight rebounds and six steals. Emory Reedy contributed nine points, a pair of rebounds and a pair of steals. Auburn Kirk came away with six points, six boards and five assists. Motes finished with four points, eight rebounds, three steals and an assist.
"To me, Auburn Kirk and Emory Reedy are the two who did things differently than anybody else," Austin said. "They got to the basket. They found shots. They were getting to the seams. They were able to make some big plays. That was the only difference in the game. If they hadn't gotten to the basket, we're standing and watching and they're making the plays.
"Defensively, Tookie had some crucial steals. She had about four crucial defensive plays down the stretch. That was basically the difference in the game - about three or four defensive stops and three or four baskets penetrating to the basket. Other than that, it was an even game."
Boyles led Collinsville (5-12, 2-3) with 12 points. Trinity Garner connected on three treys and finished with nine points. Hanna Hornbuckle had seven points.
"I thought if we would have executed a little in the fourth quarter, then we really had a chance," Collinsville coach Jon Tidmore said. "I thought we played hard tonight. I thought the girls' effort was very good, but in the fourth quarter, our execution wasn't very good. We just weren't in the right spots."
Spring Garden led 10-8 at the end of the first quarter and took a 19-16 lead into halftime thanks to a Gaines' 3-pointer at the 1:08 mark of the second quarter. Spring Garden maintained its three-point cushion at 33-30 heading into the fourth quarter.