The Yellow Jackets had a significant size advantage and eventually defeated Piedmont 61-57.
The Bulldogs proved to be their own worst enemies as a slow start put them behind 14-2 early. Piedmont cut Hayesville’s lead to three points in the fourth quarter – and had the ball – but could get no closer.
Senior Denard Spears had 22 points, five steals and two assists. Dreek Thompson scored 10 points and nabbed four rebounds. Taylor Hayes netted nine points. Caleb Adams and Austin Brazier each scored six points and Adams had four rebounds. Ty Sparks had four rebounds and two points and Darnell Jackson scored two points.
Murphy, N.C., was to be Piedmont’s opponent in the consolation bracket Dec. 27.
In the annual Cherokee County Invitational tournament, the Bulldogs played some of their best basketball in their first two games then left head coach Tommy Lewis and assistants Matt Glover and JoJo Odam scratching their heads after a loss to Glencoe in the tournament’s championship game.
Piedmont opened the tournament on Dec. 19 against Cherokee County and avenged a season-opening loss to the Warriors with a 69-37 win in the Cedar Bluff gym. The Bulldogs trailed early and led just 10-9 after one quarter. From there, Piedmont pulled steadily away by winning the remaining three quarters 17-10, 24-13 and 18-5. After leading 27-19 at halftime, Piedmont started the third quarter with a 9-0 run.
Eleven players scored for the Bulldogs. Piedmont netted 10 3-point baskets as five players had at least one trey. The Bulldogs also benefited from 10 steals.
Spears led with 23 points, including three 3-pointers, eight assists and seven rebounds. Thompson had a trey and nine points along with three rebounds. Easton Kirk drilled three 3-pointers for nine points. Darnell Jackson had two treys and eight points overall and made two steals.
Hayes scored six points. Exavyer Jackson scored four points and added two steals. Adams had a 3-point basket and added eight rebounds and three assists. Sparks, Brazier and Bayley Blanchard each tallied two points and Neonta Alexander had one point.
The following night, Piedmont handled Cedar Bluff 66-38 in a game played at the Gadsden State-Cherokee arena in Centre. Piedmont led 35-18 at halftime and the outcome was never in doubt in the second half. The game’s highlight was a rare four-point play by Spears. With 5:10 to play, Spears hit a 3-point basket, was fouled on the shot and his free throw put the Bulldogs up 58-35.
In the win over Cedar Bluff, nine Bulldogs scored. Spears had 21 points and also recorded five rebounds and four assists. Hayes scored 11 points and was 3-for-4 at the free throw line. Darnell Jackson tallied nine points and added four rebounds and three assists. Kirk and Exavyer Jackson finished with six points apiece and Jackson had four boards.
Sparks and Brazier each scored five points and Brazier had a game-high 10 rebounds. Jamal Young scored two points and Alexander had one. Thompson finished with six rebounds and Adams had three assists.
In the Cherokee Invitational title game on Dec. 21, Glencoe pulled away from Piedmont in the fourth quarter and won 60-36. The Bulldogs trailed 17-7 after the first quarter but won the second quarter 14-11. After three quarters, Glencoe led 41-31 but Piedmont remained at 31 points for almost six minutes in the fourth. Darnell Jackson led the Bulldogs with seven points. Thompson, Spears and Adams each scored five points. Hayes and Brazier each had four points. Alexander and Kirk each netted a 3-point basket for their total.
On Dec. 17, Hokes Bluff came to Piedmont and defeated the Bulldogs 62-55. The Eagles led 15-5 after one quarter. Piedmont won each of the remaining quarters, by one-point margins each time. Spears had 18 points. Adams and Darnell Jackson each score nine points. Tyler Lusk netted two treys in the third quarter and ended with eight points. Thompson scored six points, Blanchard four and Alexander one.
After returning from the Georgia tournament, the Bulldogs play at Hokes Bluff on Jan. 4 and host Saks in an area game on Jan. 7.