By Jonathan Deal
HANCEVILLE — With a boisterous student section donning neon colors, it was Athens players who shined the brightest Wednesday. Facing a team that just set a state record by scoring 154 points in a playoff game, Athens didn’t back down. Instead, the Golden Eagles attacked No. 2 Wenonah and held on for a dramatic 76-72 win to advance to the Northwest Regional final.
“I told these guys, ‘Ya’ll will have to play well to beat Wenonah, but Wenonah is going to have to play pretty good, to you beat you,’” said Athens head coach Stace Tedford. “I give them a lot of credit for what they’ve done over the last three years, but this is a different year.”
Athens jumped out to an 18-2 lead within the first five minutes of Wednesday’s 5A boys Northwest Regional semifinal to shock the three-time defending state champions.
Athens led 23-10 after the first quarter and had an answer for everything Wenonah tried in the first half. After the Dragons made a run to pull within single digits, Athens finished the half on a 12-3 run to take a 44-26 lead into the break. Kwasi Hanson finished off the first half with an emphatic dunk as the buzzer sounded for the break.
“Coach told us, ‘Don’t be surprised if we come out 10-0 and we came out and all of a sudden we were up 12-2,’” said senior Giddy Potts. “We just had to keep our head up and stay focused against that press. It was fun.”
Playing against two-time All-State and Alabama signee Justin Coleman, Potts showed everyone in Tom Drake Coliseum who the best player on the court was. The senior finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds to lead all scorers.
“He was good. I thought he was good going in,” said Wenonah head coach Cedric Lane. “He’s a little better than I thought he would be.”
After a slow start to the third quarter, Wenonah made the run everyone was waiting for. The Dragons outscored Athens 33-15 using a full court press and some sharp-shooting from 3-point range.
“Great teams are going to make runs, and they made a heck of a run, but they withstood it and battled back,” said Tedford. “Last year, we don’t win this ball game. A year later, with Giddy Potts and the other seniors, it’s another story.”
After Wenonah tied the score 59-59 entering the fourth quarter, the teams traded blows throughout the final eight minutes. Up against a full-court press, Athens ignited the neon crowd with electrifying dunks from the Potts brothers.
“They’re press is really good, but once you get past the first wave, we knew we had numbers,” said Tedford. “They shot they ball better than I thought they would. In the end, it was about our team being tough.”
Tied with two minutes to play, Athens pulled way with some clutch free-throw shooting and scrappy defense to take a 75-69 lead with less than 30 seconds to play. Trey Potts put the game away with another free throw to make it 76-72 with 10 seconds to play. Trey Potts finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds.
Coleman led Wenonah with 23 points.
Athens advanced to play Parker at 2 p.m. Friday in the regional final.