Daily photo by Emily Saunders|
Decatur High's G Redus, right, celebrates as Decatur earned a berth in the Class 5A Final Four after defeating Muscle Shoals 70-43 in the Northwest Regional finals at Wallace State-Hanceville on Friday.
Pickett, Decatur join
elite in Birmingham
By Brooke Milam
email@example.com · 340-2460
HANCEVILLE — "No game." That's what Muscle Shoals fans chanted every time Decatur High senior Rico Pickett touched the ball in four meeting with the Trojans this season.
But by the end of Decatur's 70-43 win in the Northwest Regional finals on Friday, the Red Raiders' fourth straight win over the Trojans, the Muscle Shoals' crowd was silent.
"I wanted to prove to them that we could beat them four times in a row," Pickett said.
Pickett scored a Class 5A Northwest Regional record 42 points, tied for a game-high eight rebounds and had two steals to silence the Muscle Shoals' faithful as Decatur advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2001.
No game? Pickett was named the tournament's most valuable player following the championship game.
Decatur (27-5) will play John Carroll (30-5) in the state semifinals Friday at 10:30 a.m. at Birmingham's Jefferson Civic Center.
John Carroll was a 64-32 winner over Parker in the Central Regional finals.
After facing Muscle Shoals in two regular-season games and the area finals, Pickett opened Friday's regional championship game with 3-pointers back-to-back.
"I knew Rico wasn't going to have a bad game scoring again and he didn't have a bad game scoring," Decatur coach Jamie Lee said.
"He put us on his back from a scoring stand point."
With Decatur jumping to a 21-12 lead in the first quarter, the buzz from the Red Raiders' crowd never stopped.
Pickett scored 17 of Decatur's 21 first-quarter points and Muscle Shoals fans made it obvious they didn't want Pickett on the court, but he continued to put on a show that kept the Red Raiders fans on their feet.
"Honestly, I've never been in the flow like that, at least not the whole game like that," Pickett
And while Pickett was on fire, usually sharp-shooting Muscle Shoals didn't help its cause by shooting 29.2 percent from the field in the game, including 11.1 percent from behind the 3-point arc in the first half.
"We played Decatur tough three times. They were just a little too tough for us today, I guess," Muscle Shoals coach Dennis Conner said.
"I wished we could've played better today. I think Decatur's defense had a lot to do with that. It wasn't just that we didn't shoot the ball well. We didn't even get a lot of good looks at it."
Decatur's game plan was to keep the ball out of the hands of Greg Johnson, and Lee said his team "executed our game plan to perfection."
Lee credited Red Raiders' G Redus, Mark Mason and Rishard Tapscott with lock-down defense that held Johnson to seven points in the contest.
Muscle Shoals was missing shots and Decatur was cleaning up the boards.
The Red Raiders outrebounded the Trojans 42-28, led by all-tournament selections Rolando McClain and Jarodiaus Willingham, who had eight rebounds each.
Willingham also put up 15 points for Decatur.
"They continued to rebound, well, like grown men really," Lee said of his powerful inside duo.
Decatur was ahead 31-18 at halftime and a Pickett dunk in traffic gave Decatur a 20-point lead, 42-21, midway through the third quarter.
In usual style, Willingham answered Pickett's dunk with a slam of his own on the Red Raiders' next possession, fittingly assisted by Pickett.
A basket by Pickett at the third-quarter buzzer had Decatur ahead 50-28 heading into the fourth.
With a free throw late in the final period, Pickett tied the Northwest Regional boys 5A single-game scoring record of 40 points set by Albertville's Alex Beason in 1996.
A Pickett dunk with 1:15 left in the game set the record.
Ralston Turner's eight points led Muscle Shoals.
All-tournament selections Bryant Starkey and Johnson each added seven, and Warrick Mastin had a team-high six rebounds for the Trojans.
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