Thrive, then survive: Dalton State scorches Stillman in first half, hangs on in second

Jan. 24—The last time Dalton State College played Stillman College, the Roadrunners were watching a buzzer-beating 3-pointer swish through the net in a last-second road loss.

Stillman again hit a 3-pointer as the second-half buzzer sounded when the teams met again in Dalton Tuesday night, but that mostly-meaningless bucket merely shrunk Dalton State's final margin of victory to 63-60.

Dalton State scorched the nets — and Stillman — for seven first-half 3-pointers on its way to a big lead. The shot wasn't there in the second half, but Dalton State survived with a win over the Southern States Athletic Conference opponent that avenged the 71-69 loss in November.

Those seven first-half triples — three from Jaelin Ferrell and two from Franklin Almonte — ballooned a Dalton State (12-8, 7-5 SSAC) lead to as much as 16 before the Roadrunners settled for a 38-24 advantage over Stillman (12-9, 8-5) at the break.

"Certainly the game isn't decided in the first 20 minutes, but being able to be ready to play and come out and put that much space in-between helps," Dalton State head coach Alex Ireland said.

After sitting at 6-for-10 from behind the arc at one point in the first half, the Roadrunners went 0-for-6 from three in the second half, opening the door for a Stillman comeback that finished just short of complete.

Stillman started the second half strong but still couldn't cut the Roadrunner lead down past six until the final seconds, when Devin Merriweather hit a buzzer-beater that didn't beat Dalton State.

The Roadrunners scored just five points in the final six minutes of action. Brad Milliorn hit a driving lay-in that rescued Dalton State with 4:50 to play, then a pair of free throws from Almonte were the next Roadrunner points at 41 seconds left.

The Roadrunners gave up 36 points in the second half, but the defense stepped up when it had to, shutting down nearly every Stillman attempt at lessening the lead until very late.

"We knew they would kind of make a run, our approach was just to weather the run and being tough enough to handle it," Ireland said.

The luxury of playing with a second-half lead was won pretty quickly by DSC in the first half.

After falling behind 2-0, Dalton State scored the next 10 points — spurred by two of Ferrell's 3-pointers — and had its first double-digit lead at 16-6.

When Almonte, a Dalton High School graduate, entered off the bench, he helped buoy the lead to its largest.

He hit a guarded triple, then, a few possessions later, saved the ball from going out of play with a leaping catch and pass. Almonte relocated to the corner, called for the ball, and nailed a triple to put the Roadrunners up 30-14 with 5:07 before halftime.

Almonte finished with eight points.

Stillman connected on a half-court pass for a dunk as time expired in the first half, foretelling the Tigers' comeback to start the second. A 10-4 run quickly cut the lead under 10, and that's where it stayed for most of the back-and-forth second period.

After scoring nine in the first half, Ferrell finished with 12 points to share the Roadrunner lead. Carterius Evans scored 12, while Sean Cobb put in 10 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. Donavan Miller scored 10.

Derrick Finklea led Stillman with 19 points.

Dalton State continues a four-game homestand with a Thursday game against Life at 7:30 p.m.