The final 103-81 score may not indicate what coach Tommy Brown and his young Lee Flames took from Saturday evening's loss to a solid NCAA Division II North Georgia team.
After Friday night's loss to Young Harris and a tough first half against the Nighthawks, the Flames responded with a vastly improved effort in the second 20 minutes.
After shooting only 29 percent in the first half and making only 1-of-13 3-point attempts, the Flames found themselves down 55-29 at the break. On the other hand, North Georgia was blistering the net at a 69 percent pace and making 3-of-5 shots from behind the arc.
The young Flames looked like a much different team in the second 20 minutes and actually cut a 31 point Nighthawks lead down to 15 points. However, North Georgia found a way to kick their offense back in gear and quickly destroyed any hopes of a Lee comeback attempt.
"Yes, I think we found something to build on tonight," said coach Brown after his Flames slipped to 3-2 on the year after the second round of the Peach Belt/Gulf South Challenge. "Our kids did not quit tonight and gave us a really good effort in the second half. I think we were still a little stunned after last night's game in the first half."
Corey Billingsley came up with another solid effort for the Flames and finished the contest with 22 points. He also collected five rebounds and was 8-of-14 from the field plus 4-of-5 from the free throw line.
Tyquan Roberts came back from a sub-par performance on Friday to convert 9-of-10 free throws and hit 5-of-10 field goal attempts in finishing with 19 points. Valentino Thomas also stepped up his game with 16 points.
The Flames, paced by 11 rebounds from Chad Lee, came out on the top end of the battle on the boards 38-36. Lee joined with Stedmon Ford with six points apiece.
"At times we were playing with three freshmen on the court and no seniors," noted Brown. "I think these young men grew up a bit in this tournament and realize the type of competition they will be facing."
North Georgia got a double-double and a sparkling effort from Ishmael Hollis. He had 27 points and 12 rebounds. "We worked hard to try to recruit Hollis," admitted Brown. "I think our NCAA provisional period and his having a girlfriend at North Georgia hurt our cause."
Six Nighthawks scored in double figures. Shaquan Cantrell came off the bench to score 19 points as did Michael Varrichione, who had 13 points and nine rebounds.
North Georgia finished the game by shooting 57 percent from the field and 69 percent from 3-point range. Lee improved vastly in the second half and finished the contest with a respectable 41 percent shooting percentage. However, they could convert only 29 percent from behind the arc but stepped up their game to make 22-of-30 free throws.
Turnovers continued to hurt the Flames but they also cut down in that department, 15 floor mistakes to 19 assists. The veteran North Georgia club responded with 24 assists to only nine turnovers.
"We were a little loose with the basketball at times and certainly have time to work on improving that phase of our game," explained Brown. "Again, I will stress to our players that this is the type of competition we will be facing each night in the Gulf South."
The Flames will take a brief break and will return to action on Dec. 9 and host Truett-McConnell in a 7 p.m. tip off in Walker Arena.