The crowd at The Cage Center saw a toe-to-toe crosstown matchup between two teams coming off semifinals losses in the Holiday Festival, both trying to redeem themselves by winning third place in the tourney Friday night.
Unlike the fourth-quarter trouble Rome ran into Thursday night in the semifinals, the Wolves used those last minutes of regulation to down the Darlington Tigers, 65-61, and clinch third place.
The equal matchup featured eight ties, including a tied score at 42 at the end of the third quarter, but a 12-2 scoring run by Rome broke the final tie of the game as the Wolves cruised to the win.
“We just picked it up,” said Rome coach Milt Travis. “Darlington played hard the whole night, and we felt like we hadn’t played up to that standard of playing hard.
“That last quarter, we pushed the buttons as far as expecting more from them, and they understood the urgency.”
Another pivotal factor that led to the Darlington deficit was the
Tigers’ 9-for-25 performance at the foul line.
“It started at the free-throw line,” said Darlington coach Tim Garrett. “I don’t know of too many teams that you’re going to beat when you shoot (9-for-25). Mentally, that just told me that my guys were probably already on Christmas break.
“One thing I know for certain is that we will put up a lot of free throws in the coming weeks,” he added.
After not having a lead for the entire third quarter, the Wolves’ lead-stretching run was ignited by two back-to-back 3’s by Tre Driver and was finished off by three back-to-back field goals by Desmond Johnson.
Jai Creamer led all scorers with 22 points. He stood out offensively by scoring 11 of Rome’s 14 points in the first quarter.
Johnson followed with 16 points for the Wolves, and Driver put up 11.
In double figures for Darlington were Hackett Shiflett with 13 points and Hector Picon with 10.
Despite having to play for third place, Travis said getting motivated to play was not an issue for his team.
“(Not being motivated) shouldn’t be an excuse, ever. I’ve been in it before as a player and coach, and it’s a game to be played, and you’ve got to come ready to play it, regardless of what place it’s for,” he said.
Garrett said his Class A team, having to play higher-classification teams like Class AAA Cartersville and Class AAAAA Rome, will take the tournament as a chance to analyze film and get ready for region play.
“We’re going to take about a week off, and then we’re going to get back to work,” he said. “I think if we can work on making the right pass at the right time, I think we’re going to end up being okay.
“Most of these schools are bigger than we are. We’ll be getting back to region play, so everything right now is geared toward that.”