A pair animated rival student sections, more than a dozen lead changes and two of North Alabama’s best basketball players facing each other one last time this season.
That was the setting in Athens Friday night where a capacity crowd watched the Golden Eagles walk away with a 60-54 victory over rival East Limestone.
“We haven’t had a crowd like this in a long time,” said Athens head coach Stace Tedford. “It was great for the whole community. A lot of fun for our kids.”
After a heated, back-and-forth contest, the game was decided in the final minute. Trailing 55-51, East Limestone’s Jordon Gandy drove to the basket, colliding with Athens’ Nathaniel “Giddy” Potts in the paint. The whistle blew and the referee signaled charge, essentially sealing the victory for Athens. The play was indicative of the type of workman-like effort Potts gave Friday.
“They did a great job of guarding him and taking him away,” Tedford said about Potts. “He’s such an unselfish kid. When your best player slides in to take a hit late in the ball game, that takes a lot of guts. But that’s the way we are. We’re a blue-collar team and they all play that way.”
The junior finished with 13 points and 18 rebounds while his brother, Trey Potts, had a team-high 16 points and 10 rebounds. Trey’s final two points of the night were the most important. With less than two minutes to play, Potts stole the ball near mid court, raced down the floor and slammed home a two-handed jam to give his team a three point lead.
The score capped a 6-0 run from Athens that gave the home team the lead one final time after more than a dozen lead changed throughout the game. Athens led by as many as 11 points in the first half before Gandy sparked an East Limestone comeback before the break.
With less than minute to play in the half, Gandy hit a three-pointer from the corner to give his team its first lead of the game then sprinted 90 feet to block a shot at the other end of the court, followed by a successful jump shot just before halftime.
Gandy and East began the second half where they left off, going on a 9-2 run that gave the Indians their largest lead of the game at 40-29. From there, it was all Athens as the Golden Eagles closed the quarter on a 10-0 run, shutting out the visitors for the final five and a half minutes in the third. The dry spell coincided with a defensive adjustment that held Gandy to just three points in the second half after the junior lit up the scoreboard for 17 points in the first half.
“I thought we guarded pretty well in the first quarter and then we left in open in the second quarter and he buried some threes,” said Tedford. “They are such a good team, but he is their key. We couldn’t let him touch the ball and I challenged them in the second half to do that.”
Neil Malone added nine points for Athens and shot 7 for 8 from the from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. The win was the third for Athens this season over its rival. The teams could possibly meet in a sub-region playoff game later this month.