It had been four years since Cartersville had last been able to participate in the Rome News-Tribune/Seven Hills Rotary Christmas Tournament.
After all that time, the Purple Hurricanes still found themselves clutching the Gold Ball Trophy at the end.
Playing at a packed Cage Center at Berry College on Friday, Cartersville managed to win the defensive battle against a hard-nosed Rome squad and get the 40-28 victory in the boys’ championship game. And from the tip-off to the final buzzer, points were at a premium on both sides of the bench.
“From a fan standpoint it probably wasn’t very enjoyable to watch, but I’m really proud of how our guys played defense. What a game for us on defense,” Cartersville coach Mike Tobin said.
The Purple Hurricanes (6-0) took the third quarter 5-0 after missed shots from Rome caught up with the Wolves and they went 0-for-4 at the line in the period while their opponents went 3-of-4.
Cartersville came out fast on offense for the fourth quarter and went on an 8-2 run that gave the ’Canes a 34-23 lead with 3:56 left to play. Foul shots dominated the remainder of the game with Cartersville getting the bulk of them.
“Our biggest concern was we knew at halftime we had to keep our defense up,” Tobin said. “We felt like our shots would start falling.”
A spark came from Jaylon Pugh as he hit his second of two 3-pointers as part of the ’Canes’ fouth-quarter run.
The senior finished with a game-high 13 points and went 5-of-8 at the line down the stretch.
“Jaylon didn’t shoot it like he normally does, but he hit that big three in the fourth quarter that kind of got us over the hump,” Tobin said.
Pugh was named tournament MVP for his performances in all four of Cartersville’s victories. He was joined by teammates TJ Horton and Perignon Dyer on the all-tournament team.
Horton finished with 12 points in the title game. Rome (2-1) was once again paced by Caleb Byrd, but the sophomore managed to get just eight points, four of which came in the first quarter. Adam Anderson and Rodney Sullivan each finished with six points, while Trai Hodges and Terrell Conner each hit a 3-pointer.
Byrd and Anderson were both named to the all-tournament team.
The Wolves have played just three games this season, all of them coming in the tournament, and coach Eric Holland has expressed how they are more capable on defense than offense at this point.
And while holding a team to 26 points in three quarters can be considered a success, Rome never found a rhythm under the basket when it counted.
The game was tied up at 21 each at halftime after the two teams traded runs in the second quarter. Rome started with a 7-0 run that put them up 14-11 less than four minutes into the period. Cartersville regrouped and retook the lead, 19-16, before a shot by Jordan Watkins and a free throw by Anderson put Rome ahead 21-19 with a minute left. Horton then got a layup with 46 seconds on the clock.