However, the Eagles found a way to come out on top, due in large part to their performance at the free throw line as they defeated Christian Heritage 57-41 to move to 6-6 in region play.
Excel got to the free throw line 18 times in the second half and made 14 to put Christian Heritage away in the fourth quarter.
“I told our assistant coach at the end of the third quarter there that free throws are going to determine this game and we made them,” Excel head coach Chad Parker said. “The kids really grinded it out. That’s what we’re trying to teach them, is that we dictate the pace. To be able to do that and be able to handle the ball and take care of the ball is a big deal. We are going to go up against teams that are senior-laden and very talented in this [region] tournament coming up. We have to dictate pace to them, too, and not let them run over us.”
The game was tied at 32 apiece entering the fourth quarter, but Excel was able to pull away. At first, the Eagles did it with their 3-point shooting, making two in the first two minutes. The 3s helped account for six of the team’s 12 points in the first 2 1/2 of the fourth quarter.
The shooting gave Excel the lead, but it was the free throw shooting that closed the game out as junior center Jack Bowers was frequently fouled while hitting the offensive glass. Bowers went 5-for-6 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Darius Thrower also made four free throws and had seven of his 10 points in the final period.
The game was played at a faster pace in the first quarter, when Excel scored 18 points and capitalized on four 3s from four different players. Thrower, Kory Tucker, Caleb West and Luke Blackwell all connected to give the Eagles an 18-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
It was a different story in the second quarter, however, as Excel did not score a point for the first six minutes of the period. The team did not score a field goal until there was just over a minute left in the half, but was able to score some thanks to a 7-for-10 showing at the free throw line.
As a result, Excel managed to extend its lead to 27-22 entering the half.
Parker then decided to slow down the pace in the third quarter and had his players pass the ball around the perimeter while sagging back into a 2-3 zone on defense. The tactic did not allow for much scoring as Excel only put five points on the scoreboard during the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Christian Heritage was able to penetrate the seams of the Excel defense and tied the game heading into the final quarter. Christian Heritage only scored 10 points, but Chase Tidwell scored eight of them. He finished with 20 points in the game.
It was the fourth quarter when Excel went on its run and put the game away, which is exactly how Parker planned it.
“We felt like we had to dictate the pace in the second half. We slowed them down, which rested the guys a little bit, dictated the pace so that we could have a good fourth quarter and we had a great fourth quarter and then we started attacking again,” Parker said.
Excel only scored five baskets in the second half, which typically would not be enough to win, regardless of the opponent. However, a 15-for-20 showing at the free throw line still allowed Excel to score 30 second-half points.
The Eagles featured a balanced scoring attack with four players in double figures: Kory Tucker, 15; Bowers, 11; Darius Thrower, 10; and Caleb West, 10.
Excel will face Trion, who is undefeated in region play, today on the road.
The Eagles will then move on to the region tournament next week and will likely host a game.
Lakeview Fort-Oglethorpe 74, Adairsville 45
Adairsville dropped to 7-6 in Region 5-AAA games as the Tigers lost to LFO Friday night on the road.
LFO came into the contest just a half game ahead of Adairsville for third place in the region.