This is the slam

Vince Dawson III dunks for Great Crossing during Tuesday’s 64-51 district win over Franklin County.

After two unceremonious exits from the 41st District boys' basketball tournament and further playoff contention, Great Crossing should know by now that every game against a team from the capital city is a grind.

Tuesday night still required the reality check of a back-and-forth first quarter, then giving away most of an 11-point lead over Franklin County in the second period, before the Warhawks recognized that being the better team on paper wasn't sufficient.

“Just playing harder,” GC freshman forward Vince Dawson III said. “Coach (Steve Page) jumped on us at halftime. We were like, 'We're not gonna beat anybody like this. We should be killing this team right now.' They played hard, but it shouldn't be a close game at all.”

Thanks to Dawson's steady, all-around play, a fistful of timely 3-pointers from Gage Richardson and Tye Schureman, lockdown defense from Tyquan Stakelin, and a fourth-quarter flurry by 6-foot-10 Malachi Moreno, it wasn't especially close, 64-51, at the horn.

Dawson finished with 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds for Great Crossing (11-3 overall, 3-0 district), which avenged a 55-50 loss to Franklin County (5-10, 1-1) in last year's district semifinals.

Moreno scored 11 of his game-high 20 points in the final eight minutes to go with nine rebounds and six blocked shots, dominating the paint after 6-8 Flyers' counterpart Max Mulder fouled out.

“Give Franklin County credit. They played hard,” Page said. “I knew they would. Coach (Jonathan) Moore's got those kids over there playing really, really hard, and that's a scenario that we can't have happen. We can't let a team outplay us.”

Twenty offensive rebounds and am overall 41-32 advantage on the glass kept the Flyers in the hunt. It was still a six-point game when Richardson rained down his first 3-pointer of the game and stretched the advantage to 37-28 with 3:13 remaining in the third quarter.

Schureman hit two free throws after getting fouled on one 3-point try before burying the next bomb to make it a 44-35 margin going into the fourth. Richardson (11 points) then struck again to hasten the Warhawks' getaway.

“Gage had those two corner threes there,” Page said. “They went zone, and we ran a set to either get the wing or the corner three, and he knocked both of them down. That pushed us from mid-single digits up to double digits.”

Franklin County's first shots rarely fell thanks to Stakelin's game of me-and-my-shadow with the Flyers' high-volume shooter, leading scorer and past GC nemesis, Zac Cox.

Cox went 5-for-22, including 1-for-8 from beyond the 3-point arc, and settled for 12 points. He didn't score in the second half until the final minute, after Page employed wholesale substitution.

“Tyquan came in and played hard for us and locked down their main scorer, so that helped,” Dawson said.

Stakelin scored 11 points Saturday in a win at Madison Southern and provided key baskets in both the second and fourth quarter against Franklin County, but his two steals and willingness to invade Cox's space were his most meaningful contribution.

“He did a great job on the ball, and then he did off the ball what we wanted to do in the first half, which was when (Cox) got rid of it, he stayed with him to make it difficult for him to get it back,” Page said.

Andrew Chenault matched Cox with 12 points and Zach Claudio added 11 for the Flyers, who shot 35.6 percent from the field.

Three lead changes and three ties all unfolded early, with the Flyers breaking out to an early 9-4 lead.

GC settled in quickly thanks to two buckets from Dawson and four additional points by Jeremiah Godfrey, but a wonky start from the free-throw line left the score knotted at 13 after the opening stanza.

The vast disparity on the boards — Franklin County owned margins of 24-11 at the half and 36-20 after three periods — further complicated life.

“Honestly they just wanted it more than we did,” Page said. “A lot of it were second and third tips, and we had guys who were already at the foul line and 3-point line ready to run out and play offense. They just assume that Jeremiah and Malachi are going to grab rebounds, and they roll on down the court.”

Hustle plays and transition baskets staked GC to a 14-2 run and put the Warhawks up 26-15 with three minutes to go until intermission.

True to their typically stubborn form in the brief rivalry, the Flyers scored the final nine points of the half.

“If that had been first round of districts, that's a game when you get up 11 that you've got to push it out at halftime,” Page said. “Instead they went to that 3-2 (zone). I think Tre missed a shot, and we had a couple just silly, silly turnovers after that.”

Dawson, who threw down a dunk off a Stakelin steal in the first half, delivered three key buckets during the Warhawks' 18-11 surge in the third quarter.

GC's leading scorer at 17 points per game, Dawson has been asked to strike a balance between creating his own offense and supplying it for others during a short-handed four-game winning streak.

“I've had to facilitate and also get to the basket at the same time,” Dawson said. “I've just had to see where the shooters are and see when they play off me. I have to read the defense a lot more.”

During the impassioned halftime talk, Page asked Dawson — who surpassed KJ Tucker as the program's all-time leading scorer with his first four points — to be a tad more self-reliant.

“I told him he'd taken eight shots, and he could have took 20 and there wasn't a single shot that anybody would have complained about,” Page said. “His stat line, I thought he could have got 10, 12 rebounds as well.”

Franklin County's 51 points matched the second-fewest Great Crossing has allowed all season.

“Cox took 22 of their 59 shots. We knew that was gonna happen. And again, the outlier was 20 offensive rebounds. If we clean up the offensive glass, we probably hold them to 35 points,” Page said. “His year hasn't shown he's shooting a high percentage if you pressure him and don't give him open shots, and thought outside of one or two, all 22 were pretty contested shots. We did a decent job helping, but then when he shot it, nobody on the back side. The biggest downfall of the night was our rebounding.”

Great Crossing travels to top-25 Madison Central for a stern challenge Friday before returning home next Tuesday for what promises to be another district donnybrook against Western Hills.

The Warhawks expect to have Junius Burrell and Carson Walls back in the lineup.

“Like I told the kids afterwards, don't be satisfied, but winning games is hard,” Page said. “I'd say that's probably my biggest learning in three years. I didn't expect some of the games to come as hard as they are. You've got to work your butt off for 32 minutes.”

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

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