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Austin’s Travis Cohn (1) drives against Butler’s Quinton Borja earlier this season.
Daily file photo by Jonathan Palmer
Austin’s Travis Cohn (1) drives against Butler’s Quinton Borja earlier this season.

Look who’s
back at regionals

Losing streak in January helps motivate Austin boys to 3rd straight regional berth

By Mark Edwards
medwards@decaturdaily.com · 340-2461

January wasn’t kind to Austin High’s boys basketball team.

After beating Florence on the road Jan. 9, the Black Bears didn’t pick up another win until beating Bob Jones at home Jan. 26.

In between, Austin fell to Decatur, Buckhorn, Sparkman and Huntsville to complete a four-game losing streak. But maybe the Black Bears picked up a small victory during that skid.

The streak created a sense of urgency in the Black Bears that has helped carry them into the Northwest Regional for the third straight time and the fourth time in six years. Austin (17-13) will face Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (27-4) on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. at Wallace State-Hanceville.

“During that four-game losing streak, we had some injuries and we were playing some good teams, but it turned out to be a learning experience,” Austin coach Demond Garth said. “The guys on the team were buying into what we were telling them, because they didn’t want to not make it back to Wallace State.

“That losing streak helped us get our focus.”

That focus seemed apparent after the losing streak when Austin won five of its next eight and regathered itself for a run to the Northwest Regional. All three losses came on the road — at Buckhorn, Hazel Green and Sparkman.

Austin topped off the recent run when it pulled a sub-regional upset over Hazel Green (25-7) on the road.

All this gives Garth an optimistic outlook.

“I feel real good about our team,” he said. “We’re starting to gel, and we’re sharing the ball well.”

When going down the list of people who are playing well, he named all five starters — Jay Sears, Travis Cohn, Verkeneo Mann and George Williams.

“Everybody is playing hard together,” Garth said, “and they’re listening to us in practice.”

Sears, a senior, has played particularly well lately. He has scored at least 23 points in four of Austin’s last seven games. He has averaged 28.3 points in the last three games.

But it isn’t only Sears’ scoring that has impressed his coach.

For an example, Garth pointed to the first possession of the win over Hazel Green. The ball got loose, and Garth said Sears was the first on the floor to battle for it.

“Jay is giving us everything he has,” Garth said.

Garth also mentioned the defense that Cohn played against Hazel Green’s Keegan Bell, a Vanderbilt signee. Bell scored 20 points, but only four came in the first half as Austin established control.

“Travis did a good job guarding Bell,” Garth said.

In recent years, Austin has done well in the Northwest Regional. In 2002, the Black Bears won both games to earn a spot in the Final Four. In 2004, they won their semifinal game before losing to Sparkman 49-47 in overtime. Last year, they won both games again, including a 72-71 overtime game over Hillcrest in the semifinals.

This time, Hillcrest enters with a team that has tied the school record for wins. Hillcrest also won 27 games in 1995.

“I just got finished watching some film on them,” Garth said. “They lost two of their better players from last year. ... But they’re extremely athletic and shoot the ball well from behind the (3-point) arc.”

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