The Wildcats (11-1) might not have ever opened up and held the kind of lead that Cat coach Jason Robinson would have liked, but they did enough to win in a somewhat convincing fashion.
"We played them at our place and beat them by 12. They're a good basketball team. They grind it out, they make you work every possession on the offensive end. I think we did a good job in the second half of switching up some defenses and giving some different looks," Robinson said. "I'm proud of my guys."
In the first half, it was all about Josh Lay, who nearly had as many points by himself than the Patriots (6-5) were able to manage as a team. While the Wildcats were up 24-15, Lay had 14 points to go along with four rebounds. The junior ended the night with a game-high 16 points, but got into foul trouble again.
"We talk to him about that. In the summer, he does such a great job. He's such a great player and phenomenal athlete, but he fouls a lot, too, and they don't call them in the summer games. That being said, he's scaled it back a little bit. He's had a bit of a tweaked knee for about a week-and-a-half. He's just now getting back to where he was about game two and three. We're playing smarter," Robinson said.
Along with Lay's 16-point effort, Delano Mims added 10 points, while Kelvin Bonds chipped in with eight.
This is the point of the season when Robinson starts to use his bench a little less while he finds the players that will carry the load, minute-wise, down the stretch run of the region season.
"We didn't play as many kids. We had some hurt and different things going on. Just the feel of the game, I didn't feel comfortable playing a lot of numbers. Christmas tournament time is the time to start cutting back a little bit," Robinson said. "We finally hit some free throws down the stretch and we hadn't done that."
Now the Wildcats will not only have to face a tough opponent in Mt. Zion tonight at 8:30, but they will have to fight a little fatigue, too, as they look to make a run in the tournament.
"We did a good job. I'm proud of the effort from our guys. We just have to come back [today] and do a better job — myself, I guess — getting some of those guys some rest. We played on Tuesday, so it will be four games in five days by Saturday. We'll play 15 probably and see what happens," Robinson said.
In other quarterfinal action from Thursday:
Mt. Zion boys 46, Bowdon 45: Matt Turner's 3-pointer with just 2.8 seconds left was the different in a game that the Eagles trailed by 13 at halftime.
The one-point win over host Bowdon (3-4) puts the Eagles in the semifinals of the West Georgia Holiday Classic, as the second-half defense proved to be the difference in the game.
"We were down 13 at the half, 26-13," MZ coach Joey Marinelli said. "We had a big third quarter ... they picked up their tempo on defense. I thought they played a little flat-footed in the first half. They picked it up in the second and started forcing turnovers, shooting lay-ups and working the ball around a little better on offense."
Along with Turner's 10 points, Chris Blanchard led MZ with 14 and Corey Loftin added nine.
Now the Eagles (6-1) will have to face something they haven't seen before in Villa Rica at 8:30 tonight at Bowdon.
"Their team speed is hopefully not shocking to our kids. They play a lot like Bowdon, but they're faster than Bowdon. We watched them play Paulding County [Thursday], and they were full-court press most of the game. It depends on how well we handle their pressure and hopefully keep them in front of us on defense," Marinelli said.