The Banks County boys' basketball team started Region 8-AA play a perfect 7-0, with no road blocks in sight, until a trip to Putnam County (Jan. 14) and a second game vs. Rabun County (Jan. 17) brought the Leopards back to the pack in the region.
The Leopards fell to Putnam County, 71-64, and followed the performance with an upset loss at home to Rabun County, 62-58.
"We shot the ball terrible, and they (Rabun County) shot the ball great," head coach Michael Cleveland said about the Leopards' loss to the Wildcats. "That was the big difference in the game. We've just got to have some guys step up."
In the loss to Rabun County, the Leopards shot 40 percent from the field (20-of-50). Carl Cleveland led the way with 28 points. He was the only Leopard to reach double figures.
Pierce Martin scored nine points. Sawyer Pace added eight points.
With 4:32 remaining in the game, the score was knotted at 50-50. But Pace hit a 3-pointer to give the Leopards the lead.
Down 58-55 with 42 seconds left, Pace, again, hit a 3-pointer, this time to tie the game and give the Leopards a chance at the win.
Rabun County, though, went down, made a layup with 30 seconds left to take a 60-58 lead. Then, the Wildcats' defensive effort paid off as they grabbed a steal and forced Banks County to foul.
The Wildcats connected on both free throws with 15.9 seconds left. The Leopards' deficit was 62-58 and they couldn't get a basket to drop as time ran out.
At Putnam County, the Leopards shot worse than the Rabun County game, 34 percent (21-of-61). Cleveland scored 30 points. Martin reached double figures, scoring 11 points. Two players scored eight points apiece, Pace and Gosnell.
The Leopards led 10-6 after the first quarter, but the lead shrunk to one, 24-23, at intermission. In the second half, Putnam County took over, dropping 22 points in the third quarter to lead 45-37 entering the fourth quarter.
In the final frame, the Leopards scored 27 points. Putnam County, however, scored 26 points, which was good enough for a 71-64 win.
"I’ve said before that basketball, and the season, is a marathon sport," coach Cleveland said. "Right now, this stretch of the marathon, we are just not shooting the ball better than what we were earlier. For us, playing from behind, it doesn’t suit our style … We definitely play better when we’re ahead."
The Leopards still control their destiny in region play, though, and Cleveland hasn't forgot that amidst a down stretch for the team.
"We still control everything," he said. "We win out, we secure the top spot for the region, so that’s not a bad position to be in at this point in the season.”