Photo by Brian Paglia / Woodland senior Malcolm Miller (right) deflects the ball from Ola’s Malik Smith and forces a turnover.
McDONOUGH — As the ball went from Ola’s Andrew Caldwell to Coleman Seabolt to Justin Wimberly to the hoop and the lead went from manageable to nerve-racking and the clock ticked and ticked, Woodland was thrust into familiarity once again.
Nothing has come easy for the Wolfpack this season, and neither would this game against an Ola team undergoing its own reconstruction and missing key players. But optimism has come in the form of close games with late possessions that matter.
Woodland is getting better at handling those late-game maelstroms as it showed in a 53-50 victory over Ola in the first round of the Union Grove Holiday Invitational on Thursday.
The Wolfpack withstood a late Mustangs rally thanks to four critical free throws by Deontae McClanahan and disruptive defense to advance in the winners bracket to play Woodward Academy today at 5 p.m.
“They haven’t played together in those types of situations,” Woodland coach David Bice said. “We’ve got to learn how to do it. ... We’ve just got to learn how to get over the hump and win close games.”
After building a double-digit lead early in the third quarter, Woodland saw that dwindle to just two after Wimberly made one of two free throws to make it 43-41 with 4:33 left in the fourth quarter.
Woodland responded with a 3 from Mark Bussey and free throws from Daniel Durrett and McClanahan to make it 49-43, but Ola came right back.
Seabolt got fouled and made both free throws to pull Ola within 51-47. Ola promptly forced a turnover with its full-court defense that produced Wimberly’s lay-up to cut the lead to two with 38.2 seconds left.
But Woodland’s defense stiffened, never allowing Ola to find an open shot in the waning seconds.
“We just tried to get some kids coming off of screens and just couldn’t get the shot we wanted,” Ola coach Curt Miller said.
Durrett led all scorers with 19 points, including 16 in an impressive first half in which he made four 3-pointers.
“Everytime I got the ball and I was open I wanted to shoot,” Durrett said. “And I was hot, too. If someone came up to me, I’d just make a move and dribble past and shoot. I just though shoot everytime I got the ball because I knew I was hot.”
Rafael Jones added 10 for the Wolfpack.
Wimberly led Ola with 16 points, while Seabolt added 14.
Woodland girls 66, Newnan 31
Lindsey Reed had a game-high 16 points to lead the Lady Wolfpack in their first round game of the Union Grove Holiday Invitational.
Woodland (13-1, 7-0 Region 4-AAAA, Div. A) advanced to play Monticello at 3:30 p.m with their 12th straight win since a 44-32 loss to McIntosh on Nov. 19.
Morgan Jones had a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists to go along with five rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Nicole Findura and Zaundra Stevens each had nine points.
LaKil Derring led Newnan with 13 points.
Monticello girls 62, Ola 40
The Lady Mustangs couldn’t overcome a sluggish first half in their first round loss at the Union Grove Holiday Invitational.
The Lady Mustangs (3-9, 0-5 Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A) play Newnan at 9:30 p.m. in the losers bracket.
Ola managed just two points in the first quarter and trailed 31-9 at halftime.
Bradleigh Hooper scored 20 of her game-high 22 points in the second half, but it wasn’t enough against a Monticello team that had three players in double figures and eight players score in all.