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G Redus, left, and Mark Mason show their emotions after Decatur fell short in the Class 5A state semifinals to John Carroll High on Friday in Birmingham. The Cavaliers won 45-43.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
G Redus, left, and Mark Mason show their emotions after Decatur fell short in the Class 5A state semifinals to John Carroll High on Friday in Birmingham. The Cavaliers won 45-43.

Raider nation sad
Decatur falls 2 wins shy of state title

By Brooke Milam 340-2460

BIRMINGHAM — There wasn't a dry eye in the Decatur Red Raiders' cheering section when the final horn blew on the Class 5A state semifinal game against John Carroll, and Decatur's season, Friday at Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

The bench was not a happy place either. The faces of the Red Raiders that were visible were tear stained, but most covered their heads with towels.

Senior Rico Pickett stood near the baseline with a stunned look, glancing at the final score as Decatur fell to John Carroll 45-43.

"Time just ran out on us," Decatur coach Jamie Lee said, trying to find the words to describe a loss that had every Red Raider emotional.

"... I just hope people understand how much these guys love to play. They've got really good hearts, and they wanted to please. They wanted to be champions. They're still a team people are going to talk about and remember."

John Carroll ended Decatur's season last year in the Class6A sub-regional round, but the Red Raiders had beaten the Cavaliers 69-60 on a neutral court in Birmingham on Jan. 15. of this season. Through the series of recent meetings, John Carroll coach Marty Smith said he's learned one thing in particular about the Red Raiders and that Friday's contest was no different: "Decatur and Jamie Lee are class," Smith said.

John Carroll (31-5) will play Williamson (32-2) in the state championship game Saturday at 7 p.m., closing out Alabama high school Final Four week.

"I just want people to know that we played hard, and we gave it all we had," Pickett said.

Neither team had the upper hand through three quarters of the Decatur/John Carroll semifinal battle. The largest lead of the game was a seven-point John Carroll advantage in the fourth quarter, but the Cavaliers led 43-40 with 21 seconds left in the game.

Rolando McClain promptly stepped up and drilled a 3-pointer near Decatur's bench with a defender in his face to tie the game at 43 with six seconds to play.

The Red Raiders were 0-for-8 from 3-point range to that point in the game, but were forced to look for a trey to clear the deficit.

And while McClain wasn't the first option, Pickett said he wasn't surprise his teammate knocked the shot down and it didn't surprise Lee either.

"He's got enough guts about him to take those," Lee said.

With the game seemingly headed to overtime, Rishard Tapscott was whistled with a foul among a swarm of players struggling for a loose ball around the half-court mark, and an ensuing free throw by Andrew Steele put John Carroll up 44-43 for the final lead.

David Owens sank another free throw with one second left for the deciding margin. McClain took a last attempt with a long-range toss from just inside the opposite baseline, which actually grazed the net of Decatur's basket as the final buzzer sounded.

"Obviously, we're disappointed, but I'm extremely proud of our team," Lee said. "We had a really good season, we just weren't quite good enough today."

After Decatur's shut down John Carroll in the opening possession of the game, G Redus took the ball the length of the court to begin the scoring.

With the score tied, 4-4, midway through the first quarter, a basket by McClain and 3-point play by Drei Martahler pushed Decatur back into the lead, and the Red Raiders were still ahead 11-10 after the first quarter.

The Cavaliers went up 12-11 in the opening minute of the second quarter on a basket by DeMarcus Covington, and the score was tied twice more in the period before McClain hit a free throw to end the half with Decatur up 19-16 at the intermission.

Pickett, Tapscott, and Redus took turns guarding Cavaliers' main gun Steele, and John Carroll's go-to man was scoreless in the first half with one rebound and two fouls, playing seven minutes before the break.

"They're a great defensive team, and their guys on me were playing great defense and making it tough," Steele said. "... We just survived the first half."

In Steele's virtual absence, Cavalier teammate DeMarcus Covington finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, leading John Carroll in both categories. Steele had 11 points, five rebounds and three steals.

"I felt like if we could slow Andrew down that Covington would be the next guy," Lee said. "Covington hurt us today."

Pickett led Decatur with 19 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals, while McClain added 13 points and matched Willingham for a team-high eight rebounds.

McClain also blocked a pair of shots and Tapscott had team-best four steals.

"I've been here in the Final Four three years and (Pickett) is the best finisher around the basket I've ever seen," Smith said. "We had to find a way to spread them out and get angles on them and that was tough to do."

Steele hit a 3-pointer at the 3:32 mark in the third, putting John Carroll ahead 23-21, but Decatur answered with a basket by Mark Mason that tied the game at 23 and was knotted again at 27.

The third quarter ended with John Carroll ahead 30-28, and the Cavaliers outscored the Red Raiders 17-13 in the final period.

"It just seemed like every time we made a big play, John Carroll countered with a play," Lee said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win it at the end. But they came up with the plays when they had to."

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