Defensive switch lifts Red Raiders
By Josh Cooper
ATHENS — Rico Pickett might have made the biggest coaching call of the game in Decatur High's 70-54 win at Athens on Friday.
With about four minutes remaining in the first half, Pickett looked over to Decatur coach Jamie Lee and made a suggestion.
He told Lee that Decatur, which had played a zone defense to that point, needed to switch to man-to-man. Lee accepted the suggestion.
"We felt that we could pressure them by going man," Pickett said. "I wanted to shake the game up a little bit."
Athens led 21-12 at the time, but the Red Raiders went on a 15-2 run to close the half. Decatur took a 27-23 lead into intermission and never looked back.
During the run, Decatur (9-2) had a couple of highlight-reel alley-oop dunks — one by Jarodiaus Willingham and another by Pickett to close out the half.
After switching to man-to-man, Decatur pressured the ball more and used its transition game to keep Athens at bay. Pickett was at the forefront of the charge, and the Alabama signee finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
Willingham chipped in 16 points and eight rebounds, and 3-point ace Mark Mason had 13 points.
"At the start of the game, I wasn't sure if we could chase them by playing man," Lee said. "After we did it, we were able to get a lot more transition baskets."
The call to go to the man-to-man defense changed a game in which Athens appeared in control.
The Golden Eagles (3-7) threw a lot of different defensive looks toward the Red Raiders, and according to Pickett, Athens did a good job of using different types of zone defense.
Buoyed by the home court and the momentum of having several players back who had competed in the football team's run to the Class 5A state championship, the Golden Eagles owned their biggest lead of the game when they had the 21-12 advantage. But Athens could not keep it up.
"Basketball is a tournament sport," Golden Eagles coach Venard Hendrix said. "We will be there in the end."
Larquis Crutcher led Athens with 19 points, nine of which coming off 3-point baskets.
Overall, Decatur outrebounded Athens 37-25.
"We felt like we had to limit their open looks," Lee said. "We rebounded better in the second half and played better defense."
Athens girls 56, Decatur 33: According to Athens coach Eddie Murphree, a win is a win, even if it is a sloppy blowout.
"I'll take an ugly win over a pretty loss," Murphree said. "I'm a perfectionist and I feel we have some stuff to work on.
LaCresha Horton led the way for Athens (9-2), scoring 15 points, and Jenae Strong had 11.
Victoria Wynn paced Decatur (1-9) with 10 points.
Overall, the Lady Eagles had 27 points off Decatur turnovers.
"They're going to get better," Murphree said. "Coach (Brad) Boy is doing a good job. They have so much tradition over there."
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