Daily photos by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Austin High freshman Jay Watkins knocks the ball away from Thompson’s Siddeeq Cooper in the Class 6A Northwest Regional finals at Wallace State-Hanceville on Saturday. Austin won 82-79 in three overtimes. Watkins finished the game with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Austin prevails in 3rd overtime
Black Bears rally to earn trip to Final Four
By Brooke Milam
HANCEVILLE — Austin High senior Jay Sears finally ended the madness of a triple-overtime marathon contest with Thompson in the Class 6A boys Northwest Regional finals Saturday at Wallace State-Hanceville.
Sears hit the go-ahead basket from 8 feet with 19 seconds to play and then hit a free throw with three seconds left to ice the victory. And despite trailing most of regulation, Austin took an 82-79 win for a second straight trip to the Final Four next week in Birmingham.
The game wore on and on, and the players felt it. Afterward, Sears asked, “How many overtimes was it?”
Teammate and fellow senior Travis Cohn answered, “Three.”
Sears responded, “It felt like two days.”
Austin (19-13) will play defending state champion Jeff Davis in the 6A state semifinals Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. The Volunteers of Montgomery beat Austin 65-40 in last year’s state semifinals.
Austin’s Jay Sears yells with joy beneath the cheering student section following the Black Bears’ triple overtime win in Hanceville on Saturday. Austin plays Jeff Davis of Montgomery in the Final Four in Birmingham on Thursday.
The Black Bears have made it to the Northwest Regional finals seven of the 13 years since the state began using the regional system. Saturday’s thrilling win gave the Black Bears their fourth regional title to go with ones earned in 1996, 2002 and ’06.
“This game sums up our season,” Austin coach Demond Garth said.
“We started out decent and then were down. People were asking, ‘What’s wrong with Austin?’ But we kept chipping away and chipping away. Our guys never quit, and we won in the end.”
Sears may have made the deciding points, but he didn’t do it alone.
With 17 seconds left in the second overtime, sophomore guard Verkeneo Mann, the tournament’s most valuable player, drained a 3-pointer with defenders in his face to tie it at 72 and send the game into another extra period. Mann led Austin with 23 points, five rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.
“People were focused on the seniors, so it opened up a lot of chances and opportunities,” Mann said.
Sears had 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the finals. Cohn put up 13 points with five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
He had six of his points and two of his assists in the three overtimes combined.
Freshman Jay Watkins came off the bench and produced 19 points and nine rebounds.
It looked grim early for the Black Bears. They trailed 20-7 after a quarter and were down as much as 17 at 24-7 in the second.
Watkins led the charge as Austin cut Thompson’s lead in the second quarter, capped by a put back by Sears that had the Black Bears within 26-20 at halftime. Watkins scored seven points in that quarter.
Thompson opened the second half with the same type of dominance that it did in the first quarter, pushing its lead back to double-digits. The Warriors led by as much as 13 in the third quarter.
But Austin’s determination never waned.
“We knew they weren’t going to quit,” Thompson coach Jeff Nichols said. “We knew they were going to play. We knew it’d be a 32-plus minute game.”
Austin was behind 47-37 at the end of the third quarter, but with five straight points by Mann early in the fourth, the Black Bears were within four at 49-45.
Watkins made a steal and a basket to slice Thompson’s lead to two points at 49-47 with 5:41 left in regulation, and Watkins’ free throws with 3:21 left tied the game at 53.
Austin High basketball coach Demond Garth issued challenges to his team during a timeout in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Northwest Regional finals at Wallace State-Hanceville. Verkeneo Mann (14) and his teammates delivered, defeating Thompson High of Alabaster 82-79 in three overtimes.
Austin’s Quez Powell, who finished with 10 points in the contest, hit a pair of free throws with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter, giving Austin its first lead of the game at 55-53. He hit two more to make it 57-53.
Cohn made a couple of free throws with a minute left in the fourth to keep Austin ahead 59-53 before Thompson scored the next six points, including Laderreous Kelley’s put-back basket with 10 seconds left to tie it at 59.
Four double-digit scorers led Thompson (26-6). Kelley was the Warriors’ high scorer with 25 points.
He added 13 rebounds. Gary Cunningham scored 13 with 11 boards. Jaquezz Brown had 12 points and six rebounds, and Siddeeq Cooper scored 11.
Cunningham and Kelley were named to the all-tournament team.
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