Athens won games about every way possible this season.
The Golden Eagles came from behind, won in overtime and ran teams out of the gym before halftime during their school-best 24-game winning streak.
On Friday, Athens could not find a way to break down Parker’s smothering defense in a 46-31 loss at the Northwest Regional final.
“We didn’t play very well and a large majority of that was Parker,” said Athens head coach Stace Tedford. “They played fantastic defensively. I thought in the first half, we were really good defensively. In the second half, we tried to make some adjustments. We tried to gamble a little bit more and it hurt us.”
It was anybody’s game entering halftime with Parker leading by a single basket.
And then Athens went cold.
AHS went more than 10 minutes during the second half without a basket, allowing Parker to go on a 20-0 run and pull away.
“We wanted to come out that second half the same way we started the game,” said Tedford. “Our problem was we didn’t get a lot of good shots and lot of that was Parker’s defense. The ones we did get, we didn’t knock down. We worked really hard yesterday on attacking their pressure and today we didn’t attack it very well.”
Athens matched Parker’s intensity in the opening minutes of the second half and tied the game at 23-23. The turning point came midway through the third quarter when Parker’s Hakeem Anchrum was ejected for an elbow to the face of Giddy Potts.
Following the ejection, the officials called the game much tighter in an attempt to maintain control. For the game, Parker made 18 of 27 free-throw attempts while Athens went to the line just six times, including for the flagrant foul.
“They did a good job of being physical with us and we didn’t meet that challenge,” said Tedford. “I thought the technical foul was a huge factor in the game.”
While both teams hacked away in the paint, Trey Potts picked up his fourth foul on a questionable call midway through the fourth and fouled out with 5:40 remaining in the game on a foul under the basket.
“It’s huge when your leading rebounder isn’t playing a lot of minutes,” said Tedford. “I made a decision to put him in the third quarter with three fouls because we weren’t doing a good job rebounding. It was a big factor not having him, but we’ve been there all year and I felt comfortable with where we were.”
Without Potts, Athens struggled to rebound and score in the paint. After Giddy Potts scored on a put-back shot to tie the game at 23-23 midway through the third quarter, Athens did not score again until Jackson Pettus banked in a 3-pointer with 1:33 on the clock.
By then it was too late. Parker’s defense had taken Athens out its gameplan and led by 20 points. The Thundering Herd forced 18 turnovers and held Athens to 27 percent shooting from the floor.
“They guard the heck out of you. Their 1-2-2 press isn’t really to turn you over, it’s to get you out of what you want to do so they can lock you up in the halfcourt,” said Tedford. “That’s why we felt it was important to attack that.”
Sidelined for most of the game, Trey Potts was held to four points and six rebounds. Giddy Potts led the team with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Marquell Oliver scored a game-high 19 for Parker.
With the win, Parker ends Athens’ season for the second consecutive season and will advance to the Final 48 for the first time since 2008.
They are a heck of a team. We’re a heck of team,” said Tedford. “Like I’ve said all year, ‘Whoever wins the Northwest Regional is probably your state champion, so don’t be shocked if they cut the nets down Saturday night. If you get through this region, you’ve done something.”
The loss ends one of the best seasons in school history for Athens. The Golden Eagles leave behind a school-record 24-game winning streak.
“This team’s had a phenomenal year. What they’ve accomplished for our community, our school ... they brought a lot of excitement to Athens,” said Tedford. “It was just a magical year. At some point this season was going to end. Whether it’s here or Birmingham, it was going to be hard for me losing this group of seniors.”
Parker defense too much for AHS
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