Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Athens defenders Jeremy Stinnett, left, and Justin Pitts, right, keep the pressure on Decatur center Jarodiaus Willingham under the basket at Decatur High on Friday night. Decatur won 75-58. Willingham had a game-high 19 points.
A century win
Decatur hands coach 100th
victory, Athens an area loss
By Bradley Handwerger
email@example.com · 340-2462
G Redus didn't dress out Friday night for Decatur's game against Athens, but he might have had the biggest assist.
Seconds after Decatur put the finishing touches on a 75-58 win over the Golden Eagles, Redus walked near midcourt, following Lee down the line as his players shook hands with Athens'.
And the public address announcer delivered the news — the win marked Lee's 100th as head coach.
Redus handed his coach a plaque commemorating the win, and if it had been up to Lee, that would have been the last anything was said of it.
Alas, it's not up to the head coach.
"I've just been real fortunate to be around some great coaches and players," Lee said. "The wins are a testament to the players I've had."
Yet, the current crop of Red Raiders didn't even know until after the game.
"I didn't want them to know," Lee said. "Didn't want them to think about it. I'd rather the focus be on these guys. I appreciate it."
Maybe if the team knew, Jarodiaus Willingham said, they wouldn't have gotten off to such a sluggish first half. After blowing to an 11-point lead on Rishard Tapscott's 3-pointer with three minutes to play in the opening quarter, the Red Raiders (18-4, 4-0 Class 5A, Area 16) allowed Athens to hang around.
Down 11 at the break, Athens (7-13, 1-3) hit three treys and completed a 3-point play in the first two minutes of the third quarter to cut Decatur's lead to 41-38.
"We wanted to slow the game down and not get in a running game," Athens coach Venard Hendrix said. "We did that for the most part for the first three quarters."
But Willingham put his team on his back, and Decatur stretched the lead to nine by the end of the period. Willingham scored eight of the Red Raiders final 11 points in the third.
Athens' Zach Brock, who finished with a team-high 18 points, made it an eight-point game with 3:38 to go on a layup, but it never got closer. And with 1:38 to go, Willingham threw down a rim-rattling dunk.
"The play before, I told Rico (Pickett) I was going to dunk it," said Willingham, who finished with a game-high 19 points. "And then I did. I put the nail in the coffin."
It was Willingham and Decatur's inside game that finally pushed the game out of reach. Decatur shot 58.8 percent for the game. Most of its 30 made baskets came from the paint.
"I thought we did a good job guarding their outside guys," Hendrix said. "We just had a problem with them on the inside."
Despite the win, Lee found reasons for concern. Decatur turned the ball over 19 times and was only 8 of 22 from the free throw line, statistics that could hurt the Red Raiders in a closer game.
"It's a win," Lee said. "It's a good win. It kept us undefeated in our area. But overall, it didn't feel like we played to the best of our ability."
Pickett finished with 15 points and 11 assists. Tapscott added 15 points and Drei Marthaler had 11 for Decatur. For Athens, Larquis Crutcher added 15.
Decatur can secure the area championship with a win Tuesday against Muscle Shoals.
Athens girls 64, Decatur 58: Decatur couldn't hold down Keona Shoulders, and because of that, the Lady Golden Eagles picked up the road win. Shoulders had 28 points on 12-of-13 shooting, and Athens improved to 18-3 and 4-0 in 5A, Area 16.
"She's such a presence from inside," Decatur coach Brad Boy said. "She's stronger than anyone we have. Any time she caught us out of alignment, she took advantage.
"Any time they needed a basket in the second half, they went to Keona. That's the sign of a great player."
Nevertheless, Decatur (1-20, 1-3) had a chance at the end. Athens never could push the game completely out of reach. Decatur took advantage.
Down 10 with 2:24 to play, Ashley Henderson drained a 3-pointer. Boy immediately called timeout. The Lady Red Raiders fouled immediately, but LaCresha Horton made both free throws.
Henderson made two free throws on Decatur's next possession, then fouled. Horton made one of two free throws.
After a Decatur miss, Jenea Strong made her two foul shots. But Henderson sank another 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 60-53.
Again Boy called timeout, and again Decatur fouled. And again Athens made its foul shots.
Whitney Fletcher then hit a 3-pointer for Decatur to cut the Athens lead to six with 23 seconds left.
Boy called another timeout, then Athens hit two more free throws. Henderson made a layup with 12 seconds left, but by then, it was too little too late.
"Decatur is the most improved team in North Alabama," Athens head coach Eddie Murphree said. "I can't say enough good things about them."
Though his team picked up the win, Murphree wished it was a crisper victory.
"Our shot selection at times was poor," Murphree said.
"Defensively, we wouldn't get out there on them quick enough."
Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!