Pierce Martin said he knew Jefferson was a good basketball team, and knowing that may have given him more motivation to step up and the take season-opening game by storm.
Martin nailed nine 3-pointers vs. the Dragons and finished the game with 31 points to lead the Banks County Leopards to a 71-67 win Tuesday night in Homer.
In the second half, Martin scored 22 points including three-straight 3-pointers to open the third quarter.
"Just making shots gets the team rolling," Martin said, "and better defense leads to more offense, and that's just what we do."
Carl Cleveland added 23 points for the Leopards. The two lethal scorers combined for 54 points in the win. Clay Gosnell scored eight points.
"I think we're better off when Carl gets his average and have other guys, somebody like Pierce, goes for 20 or whatever, and several guys step up in scoring," head coach Mike Cleveland said after the win. "We've been working really hard on that. Carl has been doing a good job of being the distributor, too. I thought he passed the ball almost too much sometimes. But I was really pleased with the effort tonight all the way around."
Up only two points with under a minute to play, Martin and Clay Gosnell drained four free throws to seal the win.
"That's huge," Cleveland said. "Work on that every day and it paid off today. I'm proud of the guys."
Cleveland called Jefferson a "well-coached team," and Jefferson's coach Kevin Morris has been someone Cleveland has battled for nearly 20 years.
"Got a good team," he said about the Dragons. "I like my team, too. As Sawyer (Pace) and Marlow (Lawson) get in a little better shape coming from football, I think we're going to be really, really good this year. I like what I have."
Cleveland added the game got "too fast" at times for his group.
"(Jefferson) did a good job of making us play their tempo," he said. "That's a credit to them, but to my guys' credit we still played pretty well. Fought through the adversity late, came out with a win tonight. That's what you're looking for."
The Leopards led after every quarter in the win.
After an early 5-5 tie, Martin rattled off three-straight 3-pointers to push the Leopards ahead 14-5. The Leopards outscored the Dragons 16-8 to end the first quarter and led 21-13 at the start of the second frame.
The Leopards stretched the lead out to as many as 11 points (28-17). But up 32-24, the Leopards saw Jefferson storm back, outscoring the Leopards 7-2 going into the locker room, cutting the lead to 34-31 at intermission.
The third quarter featured furious scoring from both teams. The opening nine Banks County points came from three-straight Martin 3-pointers. But Jefferson's Jacob Radaker answered with two buckets of his own, and then an Owen Parker 3-pointer along with five points from Damien Lester tied the game at 43-43 midway through the third.
After Carl Cleveland and Daniel Parker exchanged buckets, Martin and Owen Parker exchanged 3-pointers to set the score at 48-48. But a Garrett Presley bucket put the Leopards ahead 50-48 going into the final quarter.
The back-and-forth affair continued in the fourth as the lead changed hands six times. Up 65-64 after a Daniel Parker 3-pointer, Martin did what he had done eight other times in the game, drain a 3-pointer to give the Leopards the lead for good at 67-65. Martin hit a pair of free throws shortly after to push the lead to 69-65. Gosnell added the team's final two points with a pair of free throws with 14.3 seconds left in the game.
Banks Co. girls fall to Jefferson
When Sadie Simpson hit a 2-pointer with 2:22 left to play, Banks County led Jefferson 52-48. But Simpson's bucket was the last one the Leopards saw fall against the Dragons.
Jefferson closed the game on a 7-0 run including an Allianne Clark go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:19 left in the game to down the Leopards 55-52 in the season opener. Clark's 3-pointer was her only shot made from the field.
Banks County was led by Simpson and Kamryn Grier. The pair scored 12 points apiece in the loss. Jenna Reeves added eight points.
The Dragons jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the first quarter, but the Leopards rallied, outscoring Jefferson 10-5 to end the first quarter, capped off by two Simpson buckets. Banks County led 14-12 after the first.
The Leopards stretched the lead out to open the second quarter, but Jefferson didn’t let them get far away as back-to-back 3’s from Courtney Kidd tied the game at 18-18, and a Chloe Hiatt bucket put the Dragons back ahead.
The Leopards rallied to go back ahead 25-22, but again, a Kidd 3-pointer put Jefferson back into a tie at 25-25, and a Deshona Gaither bucket pushed the Dragons ahead 27-25 at the break.
The third quarter belonged to the Leopards. Banks County outscored Jefferson 16-9 in the quarter. After Jefferson built a 36-27 lead, the Leopards ended the quarter on a 14-0 run including three buckets in a row from Grier and two buckets from Lillie Venable. The Leopards led 41-36 entering the final frame.
Jefferson opened the fourth with three-straight baskets, capped off by an and-1 from Ellie Kinlaw to put the Dragons ahead 43-41. The Leopards responded with seven-straight points to retake the lead 48-43. Jacy Ayers hit two-straight buckets in the run.
After cutting the lead to two points three different times in the fourth, the Dragons made another push as Clark hit a free throw with 1:58 left to cut the deficit to 52-51. Then, her 3-pointer with 1:19 left put Jefferson ahead for good. Livi Blackstock added a free throw with 1.8 seconds, and Banks County didn’t get off a shot attempt before the buzzer sounded.