Model of consistency

Vince Dawson III combined for 39 points in Great Crossing wins over South Oldham at home Thursday and Augusta on Saturday in Cynthiana.

After needing until their fourth and fifth games to wrangle a win in the program's first two seasons, Great Crossing boys' basketball's perfect opening week in the 2021-22 campaign leads to two conclusions that are more than mere hot takes.

The Warhawks' ceiling is high, and their best is very, very good. 

GC used strong second halves to turn tight games into double-digit wins, 74-63, over South Oldham at home on Thursday night, and 69-53, over Augusta at the State Farm Classic in Cynthiana on Saturday afternoon.

“We're young, so we're just scratching the surface,” said freshman forward Vince Dawson III, who was named MVP of Saturday's neutral-court showcase after scoring 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting, backing up his 18 at a 7-for-10 clip two nights earlier.

GC overtook Augusta without attempting a single 3-point shot in the second half. The Warhawks turned the game into a half-court clinic at both ends, using takeaways to fuel easy layups and parlaying its size advantage into rebounds at one end and productive trips to the rim at the other.

Dawson's dive for a lose ball ended with a dish to Junius Burrell for a breakaway bucket in the final minute of the third period. After Malachi Moreno followed with a blocked shot, Carson Walls canned two free throws and put the Warhawks up seven, 49-42, with eight minutes remaining.

“I told them in the locker room, 'If you want to go to Rupp Arena, we're going to go to Rupp Arena on the defensive end of the floor.' We've got enough offense that we could outscore people,” GC coach Steve Page said. “We could win some game outscoring people, but you're not going to win big.”

Four freshmen supplied most of that attack, with Burrell (12 points, five rebounds, four assists), Gage Richardson (10 points) and Moreno (10 points, 13 rebounds) providing the balanced support to Dawson.

The nearly 7-foot Moreno was a difference-maker at both ends after Page benched him for most of the first half.

“Second half he was everywhere. You're going to win a lot of games if you hold a team to 17 points and 20.8 percent shooting in the second half,” Page said. “We knew it would be a fight. I thought they out-toughed us in the first half. I thought we out-toughed them in the second half.”

Kason Hinson led Augusta (3-1) with 23 points. Riley Mastin added 21 points and 12 rebounds. The two were a combined 18-for-23 from the free throw line.

Most of those, in addition to a vast majority of 16 lead changes and nine ties, took place before intermission. The Panthers led 36-35 in the locker room.

“First half they won every loose ball,” Page said. “They out-rebounded us by five in the first half. We were plus-13 on the boards and probably plus-eight on floor burns in the second half. n the short history of our program, these three games rank one, two and three in our defensive effort, not even close to the last two years. The kids are buying in. and they really have to buy in, because if they don't, we'll find somebody else to put in.”

GC closed out South Oldham, a team to which it lost by a jaw-dropping margin in the final days of summer basketball, with a 20-13 fourth quarter.

Richardson provided the punctuation by drawing a key player control foul, capping a night in which he hit all seen of his shots from the field and led the Warhawks with 21 points.

“After the first one, I was like, I've got to keep shooting that thing,” Richardson said. “They beat us by about 40 or 50 points in the summer. During the season, we knew we were coming in ready to go. As long as we keep playing together, get everyone involved, I think we're looking really good this year.”

The tall tandem of Moreno (seven points, 13 rebounds, school-record seven blocked shots) and 6-6 sophomore Jeremiah Godfrey (13 points, nine boards) disrupted the Dragons' hopes of working insideout.

And on the perimeter, with the exception of a second-quarter explosion when Christian Veirs scored 13 of his 21 points for South Oldham, GC stayed hip-to-hip with an array of senior shooters.

“We were trying to slow them dropping it in, so they couldn't kick it out and get open threes,” Dawson said. “We kind of got lackadaisical with that, but we picked it up.”

Walls buried a crucial 3-pointer down the stretch to stave off South Oldham's final rally

Only GC's struggles from the free-throw line (11-for-26) and an unusually high turnover total (23) kept it close. The Warhawks offset those deficiencies with their second-most accurate night ever (59.2 percent) from the field.

Great Crossing held South Oldham to six points in the first quarter and 13 in the fourth.

“I loved our effort defensively. We were really good in the first quarter. I thought we were pretty good throughout,” Page said.

Richardson's 11 points allowed GC to dodge South Oldham's second-period outburst and lead 33-30 at the break. He was 0-for-5 from the field in the season-opening win over West Jessamine.

“When he came in at 5 o'clock (for shootaround), he was hitting everything,” Page said. “I knew if he made that first one, it was going to be a great night.”

Another 3-0 week would require winning the Toyota Classic. GC begins that quest at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against Lexington Christian.

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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