Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
Austin junior T.T. Mallard drives by Decatur senior Rico Pickett in Austin's 59-50 win Friday night.
That's 5 in a row for Austin over rival
By Bradley Handwerger
Standing alone outside Austin's locker room at Calhoun Community College's Carlton Kelley Gymnasium on Friday, Demond Garth was smiling.
Asked why he was so happy, the Auburn fan responded, "Alabama didn't get Rodriguez."
Sure, Rich Rodriguez turned Alabama down, but, um, coach, you have a little something else to be happy about this morning.
Austin beat city rival Decatur 59-50 in front of nearly 3,000 fans, marking the fifth straight time the Black Bears have beaten the Red Raiders.
"That was an unbelievable win," said Garth, Austin's head coach. "Everybody has been talking about this game, saying Decatur was going to kill us. Decatur is an extremely talented team. But the last two days, the team has really focused in."
In the locker room after the game, Decatur head coach Jamie Lee could only shake his head. His team led by two at the half, then gave up a huge second half for the third game in a row. Austin scored 35 points after halftime, one point less than Decatur's past two opponents tallied after intermission.
"That's two good teams playing hard, getting after each other," Lee said. "They showed a whole lot more courage and discipline in the second half. You can't shoot 5 of 16 from the free throw line and expect to win basketball games."
Decatur (7-2) missed four of five free throws in the critical final five minutes.
Austin, on the other hand, used the charity stripe at the end of the game to its advantage. The Black Bears (5-3) hit six consecutive and eight of nine in the final 2:40 to keep Decatur at bay.
"At the end, for a second, I thought they were going to come back," said Austin senior Jay Sears, who finished with nine rebounds, five assists and nine points, including two of Austin's free throws down the stretch.
"Everybody knows at the end of the game, free throws really count."
Added Garth: "We never shoot free throws. The last few weeks, I haven't had them shoot."
The game was a back-and-forth classic, one team grabbing momentum for a fleeting moment until the other team stole it.
The largest lead was five points until Austin grabbed a six-point advantage with 2:40 to go.
Decatur cut Austin's lead to 45-44 when G Redus made a layup with 4:54 left. It was the last field goal the Red Raiders made for nearly three minutes.
Austin's Quez Powell answered with an 8-footer to push the lead to three. Seconds later, Alabama signee and Decatur High standout Rico Pickett made the second of two free throws to make the score 47-45.
On the next Austin possession, Chris Miller made a layup with an assist from T.T. Mallard. After a Decatur turnover, Mallard sank two free throws as Redus fouled out.
"I knew I had to make them so I put them in," said Mallard, who finished with only two points, but had four big assists in the second half. "I had no stress. I just had to make them."
Jarodiaus Willingham had a chance to cut Austin's lead to four, but his two free throw misses left the score at 51-45.
Rishard Tapscott eventually did cut the lead to four when he put back a Pickett miss, but Austin answered immediately as Ryan Lyle made a layup and got fouled.
He missed his free throw, but Powell grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
He made both of his shots for a 55-47 lead and only 1:26 to go. Pickett came back and drilled a 3-pointer, but it was too little too late.
Austin sank four more free throws while Decatur missed six more shots to seal the Black Bears win.
And Austin did it despite allowing Pickett to score 20 points and Willingham to get 18 and 10 rebounds. Only two other Red Raiders scored.
"There's no one way you're going to stop Rico," Garth said. "We put three guys on him and tried to limit his points. He scores in bunches. That's what we tried to stop. We worked on stopping their runs."
Conversely, Austin won as a team as eight Black Bears scored, Powell's 17 points and Travis Cohn's 13 leading the way.
"Overall, it was a good win," Sears said. "The key word is team. When we play as a team, no one in the state can stop us."
Mallard, who has been with the team for only three weeks since football ended, the win was sweet.
"It feels good," he said. "This is my first varsity win over Decatur."
As for Decatur, there's time to regroup. For the first time in years, Friday's game doesn't have state tournament implications. That's the message Lee will try to get through to his team.
"This game, the only thing that hurts right now is our pride," Lee said. "We're not in the same area, not in the same region. Our goal is still intact. We're going to bounce back and focus on our area play."
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