Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
Decatur High's Rolando McClain, right, grabs a rebound from Muscle Shoals' Bryant Starkey during the Red Raiders Class 5A, Area 16 championship win at Decatur High on Monday night.
Pickett paces Decatur
Red Raiders to host Cullman
in sub-regionals Friday
By Brooke Milam
firstname.lastname@example.org · 340-2462
Decatur High's boys basketball team played Muscle Shoals for the third time this season Monday night in the Class 5A, Area 16 finals.
And for the third time this season, the Red Raiders were a puzzle that the visiting Trojans couldn't solve.
"They're pretty good, and that's an understatement," Muscle Shoals coach Dennis Conner said after fourth-ranked Decatur beat 10th-ranked Muscle Shoals 70-67. The other two teams who have beaten Muscle Shoals this year are Austin and Mars Hill of Florence.
"I think our guys knew (Muscle Shoals) was going to be a tough task, and I thought they came out prepared to play," Decatur coach Jamie Lee said.
Decatur (24-5) advanced to host Cullman in the sub-regional round Friday at 7, while Muscle Shoals (24-6) will travel to Hartselle.
Hartselle beat Cullman 49-46 in the 5A, Area 13 finals Monday night to set the pairings.
Conner said his team went looking for top competition this year and he hopes that playing in Decatur's area and scheduling teams the caliber of Austin will pay dividends.
"We've faced some good competition, and what we've got to hope for now is that it'll pay off on Friday," Conner said.
Early in the contest, Decatur senior Rico Pickett drove the lane for a 360-degree dunk that tied the game at 6.
The Trojans led 14-9 after the opening period, but the Red Raiders' fire had been ignited.
Decatur battled from behind in the second, and five straight points by Pickett sent the Red Raiders ahead 22-21 with 3:15 left in the first half.
That lead didn't stick, but a put back by Jarodiaus Willingham two minutes before halftime tied the game at 26. Pickett put the Red Raiders in the lead again with a layup that gave Decatur a 28-26 advantage.
The Red Raiders lead was 32-28 at halftime.
"That was a big stretch in the game when we sort of took control," Lee said.
Decatur never trailed in the second half, leading by as many as nine in the third quarter — still Muscle Shoals hung around.
The Red Raiders were ahead 54-49 heading in the final period.
Pickett rolled up 27 points, with four rebounds, six assists and three steals for the Red Raiders. Rishard Tapscott posted 13 points and seven rebounds for Decatur, while Willingham had 10 points and nine rebounds in the contest.
Muscle Shoals' Greg Johnson scored 23 points, while Ralston Turner added 17 points and nine rebounds, and Bryant Starkey scored 11 points.
"We tried to keep them from getting the ball in the paint," Conner said. "They're just so good at getting points in the paint, and Pickett is so good at penetrating."
Muscle Shoals' final threat came when Starkey hit a 3-pointer, cutting Decatur's lead to 68-67 with 17 second to
Decatur had struggled from the free-throw line early in the game, shooting 5-of-11 in the first half from the charity stripe, while Muscle Shoals was a perfect 12-of-12 from the free-throw line for the game.
But the Red Raiders made the easy baskets when it counted most, hitting six free throws in the final minute — two by Pickett, two by G Redus and the final two points of the game by Rolando McClain to seal the win.
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