THOMASVILLE — The defending Region 1-AA champion Thomasville Bulldogs flexed their muscle Tuesday night.

Robert Carter and Willie Clayton dominated in the paint, Thomasville drained 10 3’s and used a 29-0 third quarter advantage to surge past Early County 81-44.

“We gave up too many points in the first half,” Thomasville coach Ben Tillman said. “We really wanted to focus on play defense. It was the turning point in the game.”

The Bobcats had cut a 21-point first-half deficit to 14 at halftime. Combining a suffocating defense and easy transition baskets, the Bulldogs (3-0, 3-0) pulled away from their region rival.

Seandarious Coleman had a pair of back-to-back breakaway dunks that stretched the lead to 56-31. Justin Forbes sank a couple of key 3s in the quarter. Willie Clayton led the Bulldogs with 10 third-quarter points, including a pair of buckets off offensive rebounds. Three of Clayton’s first four field goals came off offensive rebounds, as he tallied a game-high 20 points.

“We came out and played an excellent game,” said Tillman, whose team already has wins against region foes Mitchell County and Cook as well.

Trey Gosier scored 17 for the Bulldogs. Robert Carter added 13.

In the girls game, led by Carmenonique Dawson’s 29 points, Thomasville rallied from a 56-51 deficit late in the fourth quarter to sneak past Early County 60-58. Dawson hit a key 3-pointer that tied the game 56-56. She later added a 2-pointer to give the Lady Bulldogs the lead.

“She’s a big difference,” Thomasville girls coach Thomas McAboy said. “The girls kind of respond to her energy.”

Dawson buried four 3’s and sparked Thomasville’s second-half with stifling pressure defense.

“We talked about not panicking,” McAboy said, “and cleaning up what we messed up in the first half.

“We picked up (the defense). We got some key turnovers.”

Thomasville quickly erased a five-point halftime deficit, as Dawson knocked in a couple of driving layups.

The game went back-and-forth in the second half. A 20-12 advantage in the third quarter helped Thomasville lead by three heading into the fourth quarter.

Thomasville eventually held a 59-58 advantage as Early County had possession.

The Lady Bobcats tried to get the ball to star player Nett Read, but the pass resulted in a turnover. Audreka Davis came away with the steal for the Lady Bulldogs and was fouled. She sank one of two free throws, and the clock expired on Early County.

Thomasville helped itself with solid free throw shooting. The Lady Bulldogs finished 13-of-17 from the charity stripe.

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