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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2006
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Austin 3rd in Huntsville tournament

By Brooke Milam
bmilam@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

HUNTSVILLE — The Austin Black Bears made it to the final day of the 16-team Huntsville Times Classic, and have a third-place finish to show for it.

Austin beat Lee-Huntsville 61-54 in Thursday's consolation game, finishing third in the highly touted field.

"We wanted this," Austin's Verkeneo Mann said. "Having the heart to want it gave us an edge against Lee."

Madison Academy finished fifth in the tournament, and Butler beat Bradley-Central (Tenn.) 58-37 in the finals Thursday night.

In the Austin win, Jay Sears led all scorers with 20 points. Travis Cohn scored 14 points, while George Williams added 12 and Mann 11.

Williams also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, while Sears and Cohn each pulled down six. Cohn passed out a team-best five assists.

Kurtis Woods led Lee with 19 points.

"It was a great team effort for us," Mann said.

"As long as we win as a team, I'm happy."

Austin was down 10-0 before getting its offense started.

The Black Bears trailed 14-5 at the end of the first quarter, but scored the first six points of the second to narrow the gap.

Austin outscored Lee 12-4 in the second, pulling the Black Bears within 18-17 of Lee's lead at halftime.

A basket by Mann tied the game at 25 three minutes into the third. Cohn gave Austin its first lead of the game seconds later, with a bucket that put the Black Bears up 27-25 midway through the third.

It was back and forth for the remainder of the period before Justin Jones put Austin up 37-35 going into the fourth.

"I think (Lee-Huntsville) was a team that's a lot like us. We compared with them pretty well," Mann said.

Four straight points by Mann to open the fourth extended Austin's lead to six. The score stayed tight, but the Black Bears were ahead the rest of the way.

Cohn and Williams closed out the game with back-to-back slam dunks in the final seconds.

Seniors Cohn and Sears, Austin's only returning players with considerable varsity experience, were named to the all-tournament team.

However, Austin coach Demond Garth praised his younger players for their effort.

"I'm finding some depth," he said. "They're learning to play. This is an inexperienced team and playing as many games like this as you can in a hostile environment, it can only help you."

It's been an exhausting stretch of games for the Black Bears, who competed in back-to-back tournaments during Christmas break. They finished third in both the Sneaky Pete's Classic last week in Birmingham and then the Huntsville Times Classic.

Garth said his players need some rest and time to heal minor pains before playing at Bob Jones High in Madison on Jan. 5. Garth added his team will see benefits from the mental and physical strain of events like the holiday tournaments.

"In the long run, it will be worth it," Garth said. "Our guys really bonded together, and we've gotten to see what some of our guys can do.

"The second half of the season is going to be exciting."

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