It proved to be the tale of two halves for the Bremen High School boys' basketball team on Wednesday evening.
After building as big as a 16-point lead in the first half, the Blue Devils were outscored by a 17-point margin over the final 16 minutes en route to a frustrating, 64-59 setback to Spring Garden (Ala.) in the opening round of the 42nd Annual Hilburn-Patterson Haralson County Invitational Tournament.
Bremen head coach Josh Carter said the difference between the first and second half was simple.
"Intensity and effort. The ball's on the ground three or four times and they've got one guy there and we've got two guys there and they come up with it because they wanted it more than we did," Carter said. "It turns into five points, and that's the difference in the game. Those two possessions there, they came up with it and they wanted it more. You've got to have those 50/50 balls."
The Blue Devils (3-7) built the double-digit lead in the first half behind their motion attack, where nine different players accounted for the scoring, led by an eight-point effort from Will Roth and seven points from Charlie Crafton.
The first quarter proved to be a see-saw affair that saw Bremen race out to a 10-3 advantage, while the Panthers countered with a 12-6 spurt to pull within 16-15. But four straight points from Roth to close the period gave Bremen the five-point edge.
The Blue Devils started the second quarter on a 17-5 run to stretch the lead to 37-21 before Spring Garden's Riley Austin scored his team's final eight points of the half, including a 6-of-6 clip from the free-throw line to keep the Panthers within striking distance at 39-27 going into the break.
The Panthers came out with the hot hand in the second half, dropping 25 points in the third quarter alone on four 3-pointers to take a 52-51 edge into the final period.
Bremen had its opportunities down the stretch, but missed a handful of attempts in the paint and got out of sync in its halfcourt offense, where Carter thought they were pressing the issue too much.
"My guys were trying to force-feed it into my big guy (Jason Houston). We've given it to him all year, but we didn't do a good job of recognizing that they've got two or three guys double-teaming my big guy, we've got to reverse the ball to the other side of the floor and make them rotate out of it," Carter said. "We just got stagnant and started watching."
The Blue Devils never regained the lead in the fourth quarter, but cut the deficit to one point on two different occasions with possession and couldn't convert.
Spring Garden went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 25.6 seconds to seal the deal, as Austin led the way with 18 points and five rebounds, while Draevan Bowman scored all 14 of his points in the second half behind four 3-pointers.
Bremen was paced by Houston with 12 points and six rebounds, while Crafton added nine points and seven boards, Roth finished with eight points and Dalton Smith also posted eight.
The Blue Devils have a quick turnaround today as they'll look to rebound in the 5 p.m. slot against rival and tourney host Haralson County.
"We play (Haralson County), but right now our focus has got to be on us," Carter said. "Even though (Spring Garden) had a good third quarter, we were still in the ballgame all the way until the end. We had a chance to make several baskets. We run sets and we run plays and we get the ball five feet away from the basket and we have chances to tie it up or go ahead and we don't capitalize. At some point, you've got to make a shot. We did a great job of putting ourself in that position, we just didn't finish around the basket."