There was no discernible panic when the Cartersville boys found themselves trailing by 13 points against LaGrange in a must-win game Wednesday night.
Maybe, it was the fact that the Canes were at home in front of a solid crowd; maybe, it was the fact that the deficit was faced in the first half; and maybe, it was the fact that these players had overcome plenty of huge deficits over the years.
Perhaps, it was a combination of the three that helped lead No. 3 seed Cartersville to a 61-55 come-from-behind win over sixth-seeded LaGrange in the quarterfinals of the Region 5-AAAA tournament at The Storm Center.
"I didn't give any kind of inspirational speech," Cartersville head coach Mike Tobin said of what sparked the rally. "The guys realized, if we lose, we're done. We've got some seniors who obviously don't want their careers to be done. Now, they know they're going to get to play three more games, at minimum."
The victory sends the Canes (14-12) to the state tournament for the eighth consecutive year, according Tobin. It also sets up a tasty semifinal bout between Cartersville and Troup County, which split the regular-season meetings, at 5:30 p.m. Friday on a neutral court at Sandy Creek.
Tobin credited the raucous supporters for helping the Canes live to fight another day. But he felt the Grangers performed well given the circumstances of featuring in Monday's play-in game and having to travel quite some distance Wednesday.
"Give credit to LaGrange, they had to drive over two hours to get here on a school night," Tobin said after the game. "Right now, it's 10:30. What a joke, They're going to get home, probably at the earliest, 1 o'clock in the morning. That's ridiculous.
"Thank goodness, I say it all the time, better them than us. We didn't have to travel. That's why it's so important during the regular season to take care of business. Obviously, we wish we had been a one or a two seed [to earn a bye into the semifinals], but being a third seed, we were able to play at home."
Despite playing on the road, LaGrange shot the ball like they were comfortable, hitting with remarkable efficiency in the first half. Cartersville, meanwhile, struggled to get anything to fall.
"To me, it seemed like we weren't doing a good job defensively, but every roll, they were getting," Tobin said. "They looked like they could go either way, and they just kept rolling in. We had a couple good looks inside with [Isaac Gridley] in the first half that rolled in and out. ... Bottom line is I thought they were getting some rolls."
The Canes were somewhat fortunate to be within 14-9 after one quarter, with Perignon Dyer and Amarai Orr providing all of Cartersville's points. Things went from bad to worse for the home team in the second quarter, as the Grangers quickly pulled ahead by double-digits.
At one point, LaGrange held a 27-14 advantage before Cartersville managed to climb back within 29-20 entering halftime. The Canes came out hot to begin the third quarter, pulling within 31-28 to force a timeout by the Grangers.
LaGrange weathered the storm, but Micah Tart finished with seven of his 12 points in the period to keep Cartersville within 42-38 heading to the fourth quarter.
"I knew we were going to battle," Tobin said. "... Tournament time, the biggest thing is defense, and I thought we D'd it up the second half.
"Micah, we complimented him after the game. He brought some big-time energy tonight. He gave us a spark off the bench, and we rewarded him by starting the second half."
With the score tied at 45-all, Gridley hit a pair of 3-pointers on either side of a LaGrange timeout to boost Cartersville to a six-point lead. The Canes were up seven with under a minute left before a quick flurry by the visitors had them down just two at 57-55 with 15.5 seconds to go.
An intentional foul on the ensuing inbounds pass allowed Cartersville to salt away the game at the foul line, which the Canes successfully did by sinking 16 out of 21 free throws on the night.
Dyer led Cartersville with 18 points. He connected on a couple of 3s and hit all six of his foul shots. Gridley added 13, including a trio of shots from deep; Tart finished with 12; and Orr chipped in with 11.
Jordan Ogletree scored a game-high 20 points for LaGrange, which sees its season end with a 13-14 record. Cartersville was responsible for three of those losses, although the games were all decided by seven or fewer points.
"It's tough beating a team three times," Tobin said, "and all three times, they were battles."