Robinson's late FTs lift Wildcats over Canes

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Woodland senior D.J. Robinson stood at the free-throw line with the score tied and 4.4 seconds left on the clock in Saturday's meeting with rival Cartersville.

Robinson had stood at the same charity stripe just minutes before and missed two critical free throws. He had also thrown the ball out of bounds with the Wildcats leading by one and 30 seconds left.

But now he had a chance to give Woodland a crucial lead. The 6-foot-3 forward calmly hit the first, and then the second.

He held his breath along with everyone else in the Woodland gymnasium as Cartersville's Isaac Gridley launched a 3-pointer at the buzzer that came up just short, allowing the Wildcats to escape with a 57-55 victory over the shorthanded Canes.

"I was proud of him," Woodland head coach Colman Roberts said Robinson. "He did a lot of good things in that game. He's a rebounding machine. He just goes to the ball. I can't teach that, can't coach that."

For the second consecutive meeting, the Wildcats have won a thriller over their crosstown foe. Just prior to the Region 7-AAAAA tournament this past February, Woodland used a Jaylen Ballard triple at the horn to send the game to overtime before holding off Cartersville in the extra session.

This time around the game didn't have quite the luster with the Canes having a mostly inexperienced squad. Cartersville lost some standout players from last year's team, but more than that, the success of the school's football team has kept Mike Tobin from having all his preferred assets, so far this season.

Even still, the Canes showed a lot of fight, particularly after a rough opening five minutes. In that span, Cartersville was called for three technical fouls. Woodland's Hunter Johnson also got off to a ridiculous start, totaling 13 points while drilling a trio of 3-pointers.

"It was the weirdest game," Roberts said. "It felt like the first quarter took forever."

By the time the second period started, Woodland (3-3) held a 17-12 edge. Johnson and Justice Carter each had six points in the second quarter to help the Wildcats extend their lead to 36-28 by halftime.

Cartersville's only two returning starters, Perignon Dyer and Isaac Gridley, did everything they could to keep the Canes (1-2) within touching distance. Dyer had nine of his team-high 20 points in the second period, and Gridley added six of his eventual 15.

"It's hard to play them," Roberts said, heaping praise on Tobin, Dyer and Gridley. "If you play man, they'll beat you off the dribble. If you play zone, they have shooters."

Austin Kauffman had half of his 10 points in the third stanza, as Cartersville pulled within 45-42. The Canes also started doing a much better job defending Johnson, who had just three free throws in the second half but finished with a game-high 22 points.

The biggest free throws of all, though, came in the final seconds.

Both teams hit clutch shots as time wound down, but it became a test of nerves in the closing moments. After Robinson's turnover, Cartersville drew a foul with 5.2 seconds to go.

Jaylen Garnigan made the first to tie the game but missed the second. A foul on the rebound sent Robinson to the line, where the Woodland veteran took advantage of his chance to  atone for his earlier errors.

"I'm proud of the kids," Roberts said. "They battled. We missed a lot of free throws early in the game, but those two D.J. hit were big."