JOHNS CREEK -- In less than two minutes during Saturday's first-round state playoff game against Chattahoochee, everything seemed to fall apart for the Salem boys basketball team.
The Region 7-AAAA Cougars forced five turnovers to aid in an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter and pulled away from the Seminoles in a 66-46 victory.
Chattahoochee (24-5) will host the winner of Douglas County-Chamblee in next week's second round, while Salem, which set the school record for wins, had its season end at 18-10.
"We really turned a corner over the last three years and each year we've gone on to do something better than the year before," said Salem coach Darren Wilkins, who guided the seminoles to the first state tournament appearance in school history last season. "Three years we had our second-best record, last year we got into state, so this year to have 18 wins and then be back in state a second consecutive year, I'm pleased with the program and the growth. (Saturday) shows we got to take further steps."
Jamaal Garror scored on a tough runner in the lane with four seconds left in the third to pull Salem to within 47-40. But in the opening seconds of the fourth, Chattahoochee forced two quick turnovers, the last of which resulted in a booming dunk by Trey Archambeau to make it 51-40 and Wilkins burned a time out. Things didn't get any better. Clemson signee Jaron Blossomgame blocked a shot that led to a dunk by Rashon Dumas and the Cougars led 55-40 with 6:32 to play in the game.
"We came out real lackadaisical," Wilkins said of the opening moments of the fourth quarter. "We had two turnovers at the beginning of the fourth quarter that led to two dunks; (the deficit) ends up going from seven to 11. In state playoff games every possession counts, and they were able to cash in theirs and we didn't."
Salem trailed by seven at halftime, but closed the gap to four on a 3-pointer by all-Region 8-AAAA guard Dedrick Turner. Unfortunately, it was Turner's last field goal in a 20-point night. Chattahoochee built a lead as large as 11 points on two of Markus Terry's 15 points, but Salem finished the third on a 7-3 run.
The No. 4 seed Seminoles got off to a great start, using a suffocating half-court press to force three early turnovers and go up 7-0 as Turner got five quick points. The Region 7-AAAA champion Cougars settled in and, thanks to eight points from Terry, went on a 17-2 run over the next three minutes to grab a 17-9 lead.
Blossomgame, who led the Cougars with 19 points, got to work late in the first as the athletic wing fed Desma Slaton for a bucket and added a three-point play with seven seconds left to put the hosts up 24-13 after one.
Chattahoochee led by as many as 14 points in the second. Blossomgame had another three-point play that capped a 7-0 run and made it 33-19 at the 4:28 mark. Salem didn't quit, finishing the opening half on a 7-0 run of its own to trail by just seven at the break.