CANTON — Cherokee survived an early scare and advanced to the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state tournament with a 69-52 win over North Gwinnett on Friday.
The Lady Warriors (25-3) trailed 25-23 late in the first half, but they reeled off 14 straight points and eventually took a 39-26 lead to the half.
“We changed up defensively a little bit,” Cherokee coach Matt Cates said. “The kids responded and got after it. We were able to get some steals and capitalize in transition. It gave us some room and really changed the game before halftime.”
Cherokee will host either North Cobb or Pebblebrook in the second round either Wednesday or Thursday of next week.
While Cherokee was able to generate plenty of offense during its game-changing run, it was the defensive end that sparked it.
The Lady Warriors forced five straight North Gwinnett live-ball turnovers that led to nine of Cherokee’s 17 points off turnovers in the game.
“That team has been off for almost two weeks, so I’m sure they’ve watched plenty of film,” Cates said. “Teams in the playoffs are always a little bit more prepared for you, so it’s important to be able to change things up when you need to.”
North Gwinnett (11-16) could not cut the deficit to single digits after the break, due in large part to a tempo that never got going. The teams combined to commit 43 fouls and shoot 58 free throws in the game.
“That’s always tough,” Cates said. “When you have a game that keeps stopping and going to the line, it’s hard to get a rhythm. Luckily, we were able to create some rhythm with our defense and keep things going.”
North Gwinnett had even more trouble with the tempo, turning the ball over 27 times while shooting just 4-of-16 on 3-pointers.
Malia Fisher had nearly half of North Gwinnett’s points, finishing with a game-high 24.
Cherokee did struggle to find a rhythm with its outside shot as well, going just 1-of-8 on 3-point attempts, but it had no trouble scoring.
Kate Johnson led the way with 19 points, while Ashlyn Andrus added 17. Lacie McCoy finished with 13 and Chatham Brown had 12 to give the Lady Warriors four scorers in double figures.
“Those options matter a lot,” Cates said. “This time of year, teams are going to do whatever they can to take away your top scorer. We’re blessed to have a few players who can fill that role, and we’re a lot better when they all are.”