The Central High School boys' basketball coach used a different starting lineup, but once his Lions (11-7, 6-2 Region 4-AAA) were down 14-4 almost three minutes into the ball game, the usual suspects came back on the floor. Regardless of who was in the game, Smiley didn't feel like his team ever really got its feet under them.
"We didn't play with any kind of intensity. I thought we were flat the whole night. Haralson County wanted it more than we did early on. We've got to regroup," Smiley said.
Even though the Lions battled from being down by nine at halftime to take the lead just over two minutes into the third quarter, Haralson County coach Kenny Walker couldn't have been more pleased with the effort his team gave.
"I was proud of my team. That's the best effort that we've had in my two years here. Just the best fighting and scrapping and clawing and competing. That's the best effort I've had in two years. That's something we can build on. They just told me they're tired of losing. I am, too, and I'm glad they are. That's the right response," Walker said.
Even with Central's regulars back in the game, the Rebels (2-16, 1-7) held a 21-9 lead after the first quarter and were up 32-23 at halftime. The opening of the second half hurt HC again, as Central was on top at 33-32 before the Rebels were able to score a point in the third quarter.
HC was in foul trouble all night, as Lane Fortune picked up his fourth foul just 12 seconds into the third quarter and Seth Neeley was whistled for his fourth just a minute later. Fortune, Jimothy Mitchell and Nii-Okai Reindorf all fouled out of the game.
Mitchell led the Rebels with 16 points, while Neeley added 10 points and five rebounds.
The combination of Kahlil Wynn and Justis Ward did the most damage for Central. Wynn led with 18 points, while Ward added a 15-point, 16-rebound double-double and Shaq Allen chipped in with another 10 points in the win.
Central girls 53, Haralson County 27: The Lady Lions (15-4, 8-0) remained perfect in region play with a dominant performance over the Rebelettes.
In the midst of a 10-game win streak, the challenge has been getting ready for each game. Central coach Jimmy LeBlanc doesn't want his team coming out on the court thinking that just showing up will get it the win. The Lady Lions have played like that in a few games and were still able to get the 'W,' but on Saturday he felt more like his team was ready to play.
"It's about just doing things right. It's about being prepared. It's so hard the second time through. If you've defeated someone the first time to come into the game with the right mindset. We struggled a little bit with that the last time we played Rockmart. Felt like kind of the same thing in the Callaway game," LeBlanc said. "It's just a challenge, and I thought [Saturday] that was a goal to come out ready to go and I thought we did."
With some regular contributors missing, the Rebelettes (6-12, 2-6) were able to get a better look at some of the younger players. Kaycee McElroy, Emily Duvall, Delanie Roberts and Mackenzie Bishop, all freshmen, got on the court and did what coach Jane Williamson wanted them to do.
"We had several girls gone [Saturday]," Williamson said. "We didn't have but 13 or 14 dress out. I saw Bishop take it straight to the goal, that's what she's supposed to do with it. I thought Skye [Overby] gave a good effort for us and the freshmen were playing a little bit ... We had a good effort to be missing three players that's normally playing."
Overby, one of just two seniors on the roster, was a catalyst for the Rebelettes all night, as she scored eight points and had 11 rebounds. McElroy and Andrea Lasseigne also scored eight points each, while adding eight and five rebounds, respectively.
LeBlanc got a 17-point effort from Wesli Simmons, as well as 14 points and eight rebounds from Sherae Bonner, 13 points from Jasmine Thrash and an 11-rebound performance from Brianna Cousins. Even with those numbers, the most important thing to the Central coach was how the team got shots and put itself in position to be successful in the game.
"I wasn't even focusing on who was scoring or where they were scoring, I was focusing on what we were trying to do. They sagged down to try to keep our bigs from having a big game, so it was an opportunity for us to creatively find ways to adapt and call things from the sideline and draw things up in timeouts," LeBlanc said.
The Rebelettes are working on improving game-by-game with such a young roster. Williamson believes her group took a step in that direction on Saturday, even in the loss, because of her team playing without some key pieces. It will hopefully have some of those back for Tuesday's 6 p.m. trip to Coretta Scott King.
"We had to improve [Saturday] just to cover for the girls that were gone. I thought some of them really stepped up. Kaycee McElroy and Andrea Lasseigne, they're both freshmen, Emily Duvall is a freshman. We had some freshmen step up for us," Williamson said.
As for the Lady Lions, they can't let their undefeated region record speak for itself. They have to continue to play each and every night, especially against teams they have already seen and beaten. Central will travel to Douglass on Tuesday, a team they defeated, 61-45, in the first meeting, and win again.
"The past is the past. I'm glad we are where we are, but it's gone. It's done. It's over. Every opponent we experience is going to get tougher and tougher," LeBlanc said. "Our goal is to be better every time we step on the floor. It's never being satisfied. It's working harder every day. We're really trying to compartmentalize down into that."