It's hard to score if you can't get your shot off.
Dalton sophomore Franklin Almonte finished with a game-high 17 points and six blocks for Dalton (8-10, 3-8 in Region 6-6A) and controlled the paint on both ends of the floor to lead the Catamounts past Northwest Whitfield, 36-34, Saturday in front of a near-capacity crowd at home.
Both teams struggled to score throughout the game, but it was Almonts who made his presence felt both offensively and defensively. Dalton point guard Tyis Love said having Almonte on the team keeps things interesting.
"You don't know if he's going to block someone then take it down for a 3-pointer or block someone else and take it down for a dunk," Love said. "It's fun playing with Frank because you don't know what to expect."
Almonte scored 11 points in the first half, but it was his defensive play that made almost as significant of an impact. He had three blocks in the first half and controlled the defensive glass for Dalton who forced Northwest (9-11, 6-3 in Region 6-4A) into contested shots on nearly every possession.
Playing without its leading scorer and senior leader Chris Cunningham, who was out sick, Northwest struggled to find consistent offense against the zone defense of the Catamounts. Callen Nealey gave the Bruins a second quarter lift when after converting 1-of-2 at the foul line, he nailed a 3-pointer plus the foul. Nealey made the ensuing free throw giving Northwest a 14-10 lead, but Dalton went on an 11-2 run to finish the first half and take a 21-16 lead into halftime.
"With these type of rivalry games, it's going to be a battle," Dalton coach David Brock said. "We're struggling to shoot the ball from the perimeter, but I feel like we got really good looks right around the rim we just had a hard time scoring."
Northwest's Blane Greene began to assert himself in the third quarter with six straight points to cut the Dalton lead to 23-22, but Almonte responded with a basket followed by an Ashton Blackwell bucket to extend the Dalton lead once more. Dalton led 30-25 at the end of the third, and Northwest was still in striking distance as the final quarter began.
"We've played good at times this year and we've played bad at times this year, and tonight we were looking for 32 minutes of intense basketball," Northwest coach Ryan Richards said. "I thought we came out and did that. I knew it was going to be a low scoring game, and I was proud of the kids we had out there because they put themselves in a position to win the game."
As often happens rivalry games, the momentum became a factor in the fourth quarter. After Dalton took a seven-point lead to start the final perios, Northwest went on a 7-2 run and with 42 seconds left in the game Northwest trailed by only two points at 34-32. Dalton's Sam White made two free-throws to extend the lead to four points, but Northwest's Kooper Pardee's floater in the lane cut the lead once again to one possession. After a missed free throw by Dalton, Northwest had multiple shots to tie the game and a final attempt at a 3-pointer which would have won the game, but all were unsuccessful and Dalton held on for the home victory.
"We have sparks where we can see our potential," Love said. "We couldn't have got this win if we didn't stick together tonight and that starts with coach Brock. It's always fun coming out with a win in this game, even if it's by one point."
Dalton will play next at 7 p.m. on Tuesday when it hosts Region 6-6A opponent Osborne. Northwest hosts a region game at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday against LaFayette, who currently sits in first place in Region 6-4A.