By Justin Graves
Josh Pearson grabbed a putback and delivered a dunk, placing an exclamation point on a near flawless first half.
For Austin High, everything went right — at least for the first 16 minutes.
Points in transition were plentiful. Defense was unrelenting. The Black Bears headed to the locker room with a commanding 26-point lead in tow.
The fast start was enough. Austin held off a furious Athens comeback in the second half, beating the Golden Eagles 65-45 Tuesday night.
“Up tempo, but in control. That’s way we played in the first half,” Austin guard Everette Mayes said. “When we’re getting up and down the floor, that’s when we’re at our best.”
True, and it showed in the first half. Malique Elliott poured in 12 of his game-high 15 points before halftime as Austin (4-1) used a couple of lengthy scoring runs to build a 41-15 lead.
Then the second half began.
Austin struggled with turnovers in the third period, and Athens (5-4) didn’t look like the same team. Frederic Houston and Dedrick Stinnett led a spirited charge, with the Golden Eagles using a 14-2 run to pull within 15.
Anderson paced Athens with nine points, while Stinnett added seven. Athens star forward Nathanial Potts finished with six points, but did not play most of the second half after a hard collision with Elliott.
“We played horrible in the first half,” Athens coach Stace Tedford said. “It didn’t even look we had the same team on the floor (after halftime).”
Austin coach Demond Garth said his team’s stumble in the second half provided a valuable teaching point following the game.
“We lost our defensive intensity,” Garth said. “We really guarded well in the first half, protecting the basket and keeping them from making shots. But in the second half, we came out and looked at the scoreboard, and the guys’ effort wasn’t as good as it needed to be.
“With the type of team we have, we have to defend well, and we took a step back with that in the second half. It definitely gives us something to work as we move forward.”
Pearson finished with 11 points for Austin, while Mayes and Mark Bell each added nine.
Austin travels to Hazel Green on Friday, while Athens hosts rival Decatur.
Austin girls 60, Athens 33
Meagan Hamilton nailed five 3-pointers and Takisha Jordan poured in 12 points to lead Austin as the Black Bears cruised past Athens.
Austin (5-3)carried an eight-point lead into halftime, but pulled away after the break. Hamilton made three consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter, and Kembrea Williams added another, helping the Black Bears build a 48-25 cushion.
With several players out with injuries — including star center Alliyah Smith — Athens struggled to build any momentum. The Golden Eagles had just three field goals in the second half.
“Athens has a lot of injuries right now, and they’re missing a lot of good players,” Austin coach Bruce Hamilton said. “But still, in my opinion, they took it to us in the first half and beat us down the floor a few times. We were able to turn it around in the second half by getting a few timely 3s, and we played a lot better defensively.
“Right now, at this point in the season, we’re still trying to build depth and find out who can come in at key spots for us. I think we were able to find out a little bit more about our team tonight.”
Zana Burke led Athens with nine points, while Jazzmin Hicks added eight.
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