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SUGAR HILL (GA) – As bleak as the circumstances appeared early on, the Friendship Christian Spartans were still able to knock the Georgia Force Christian Blue Knights from the list of the unbeatens.
Conner Marshall scored 11 of his 23 points in the second quarter to help Friendship Christian climb out of a double-digit deficit and press on to earn a 64-57 road win over Georgia Force Christian at the E Center Gym on December 15.
Malik Smith played a key role in the comeback as well, notching 17 points, which included scoring a layup by inbounding the ball off a defender’s back, six rebounds and five assists for the Spartans, who won their ninth straight game while moving the Blue Knights’ record to 5-1.
“They haven’t had a lot of games but we are probably the toughest team they’ve played,” Friendship Christian coach Anthony Brodie said. “We’re pretty seasoned and have some tournaments under our belt and we played a lot of great competition. They are going to be a great team. They are going to be tough to deal with the rest of the season and we got to see them at our place.”
Following the opening tip, the 1-2 punch of Davis McCarn (27 points, five rebounds and three blocks) and Manny Vasquez (18 points, seven steals, six rebounds and five assists) had Friendship Christian off balance on the defensive end. The Blue Knights also had the Spartans confused on offense with a half-court trapping defense, resulting in an 18-5 score heading into the second quarter.
But Marshall scored six of his team and the game’s next eight points to swing the momentum and silence the home crowd some. For the rest of the half, Friendship Christian continued to trail but entered halftime behind just 27-24.
“I said Malik you are the quarterback of the team,” Brodie said. “You are not trying to penetrate and draw any fouls. You got to get into the middle of that zone so we can get some points from the inside or kick it out so we can knock down some shots.”
Early in the third quarter, McCarn’s 3-pointer followed by a steal and layin by Vasquez reopened the margin in favor of Georgia Force Christian but the Spartans responded with a game-changing 12-0 run which gave them the lead for good.
Smith ignited the surge with back-to-back layups before Marshall nailed a 3 to cut the deficit to one. Then Akhai Belton (11 points, seven rebounds) snagged an offensive rebound and scored with a hook shot for a 33-32 lead (the Spartans’ first of the game). The teams traded baskets the rest of the frame and Friendship Christian started the final period ahead 44-41.
In the fourth, Benny Morozov (11 points, nine boards) and Smith opened the scoring with consecutive layups and shortly afterwards, Marshall sunk a jumper for a 50-42 edge. From there on, the Spartans prevented the Blue Knights from getting closer than six points.
“We learned a lot from this game,” Brodie said. “Whenever we get in tight situations or we come out flat, we are going to struggle even more. We also learned that we can play together as a team and our heart is where we are going to have to dig deep because the rest of the season is not going to get easier but get tougher.”
Miller Allen had 10 rebounds and three blocks for Georgia Force Christian.