Last season, Northwest Whitfield High School's Luke Shiflett hit a shot late in an offensive showcase against LaFayette High School to give the Bruins a Region 6-4A title.
In this year's rematch, both teams sitting near the top of the region once again, the fortunes were reversed as LaFayette (16-1, 7-0) edged the Bruins (11-6, 5-2) on the Bruins' home court in a 45-38 defensive slugfest.
"I think we did a good job early on executing and defending really well," Bruins coach Ryan Richards said. "In the second half, we just played tight and it cost us the game. We missed numerous easy shots there in the lane. We were the Atlanta Falcons tonight. We quit playing to win and started playing (not to lose)."
After holding at least a share of the lead from the first two minutes of the first quarter, a series of events in LaFayette's favor gave the Ramblers a late lead.
The Bruins held a 32-28 lead entering the final quarter, but failed to make a shot until 1:30 left in the game, which gave the Ramblers a chance to capitalize.
LaFayette's Vyshonn Daniel hit a jumper with 4:40 to go to give his team its first lead since the first quarter. On the next possession after a Northwest miss, the Ramblers stretched that lead with a Tyrese Marsh layup.
Northwest forward Chris Cunningham, despite being sick and missing the past two practices, carried the offensive load for most of the night, finishing with a team-high 18 points. But as he was trying to take over once again, he was called for two charging fouls, which gave the ball back to the Ramblers who converted the turnovers into points.
"I think he played really strong tonight," Richards said. "He tried to take over there late and got a couple of charges. I like that. I don't like the charge calls, but I like that he's willing to put it on his shoulders and go with it."
The sequence gave LaFayette a four-point lead with 54 seconds to go in the game. The Bruins made one last push as Bryce Reece hit a pull-up jumper just below the free-throw line to cut the deficit to two with 35 seconds remaining.
But with Northwest being forced to foul, LaFayette's Alex Kyler knocked down both free throws to push the lead to four. Northwest played the foul game, but wasn't able to cut into the lead.
"We just gotta knock down open shots," Cunningham said of the final quarter. "I feel like they turned up the intensity a little bit, but that doesn't count anything on us. We just gotta make shots."
Reece finished with eight points. Guard Barrett Upton added four points and seven rebounds.
LaFayette retains first place in the region as the Bruins still hold second. With the tough battle, Cunningham said there are things to be taken from this defeat.
"We'll be ready for them in the region tournament," Cunningham said. "This builds character."
Lady Bruins thump LaFayette in 'flu game'
With three key players, including starter and 3-point specialist Rylee Maret, out with the flu, Northwest girls coach Greg Brown was forced to shuffle the lineup against LaFayette and put players in spots they hadn't been.
But Brown will take a 37-point win any night.
"I kind of figured this was one of those deals where you gotta get through it and survive," Brown said of the 71-34 home win. "But it gave some kids an opportunity to play a little bit more. It wasn't the cleanest game in the world, but considering what's going on, I'm not gonna complain."
The Lady Bruins (15-2, 7-0 Region 6-4A) opened the game with a flurry of offense, outscoring LaFayette 22-4 in the first quarter. In the second, turnovers killed their momentum and the Lady Ramblers (2-13, 1-6) seized it, scoring 18 points.
The Lady Bruins finished with an uncharacteristic 15 turnovers. It was their defense that enabled them to keep up the pressure in the second half. Northwest forced 28 turnovers, 10 in the second half.
Forward Jada Griffin, who usually posts the big numbers, finished with 10 points, and all of her points came in the game's first five minutes despite playing well into the second half. Senior Holly Heath finished with six steals.
Guard Tionna Baker helped offensively, scoring 13 points.
"She's very capable," Brown said of Baker. "She's growing up just being a sophomore. She's a good passer, but she's got the ability to score and I think that's helped her and made her harder to guard."
As the Lady Bruins dive into the meat of their schedule, Brown said health will be a key factor.
"Number one, we need to get healthy," he said. "It's been tough for me trying to schedule practices around sickness and being tired. I gotta be smart in how I schedule things because having our legs under us will be a big thing for us."