Adrenaline pumping, and focus showing in his eyes, Everette Mayes was intent on preventing a comeback.
Mayes made a tough shot in the lane, getting knocked to the floor as he took the ball to the rim, sparking a late run that sent Austin High past Class 2A No. 1 Tanner 62-49 Saturday night in front of an overflow crowd.
The game was physical and intense, but the crowd was the story. Because there were no seats available and fans were overflowing into a crowded lobby, school officials closed the gate before tipoff of the boys game. There wasn’t an empty seat in the building, and fans were lined two deep around the gym walls — and up two six and seven deep near the lobby doors.
And it was extremely loud.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played in a game this loud, except for at Wallace State (for the Northwest Regional),” Mayes said. “That was crazy out there.”
Austin coach Demond Garth agreed.
“What a great environment for high school basketball,” he said. “The fans were into it. They were loud. Playing in (such) an environment definitely gets you ready for the big games we have coming up.”
The fans who made it early enough to get into the building got to witness quality high school basketball entertainment. There was no shortage of gifted athletes on the floor.
That was made clear in the opening minutes when Austin’s Malique Elliott took a steal the length of the court and brought the crowd to its feet with a dunk, and the fans never settled until the closing minutes of the fourth quarter — when it was apparent the Black Bears had secured the win.
Mayes said overcoming the noise was a factor.
“It was very loud, but you’ve just got to keep your calm,” he said. “This was one of those situations where you can’t get involved with the crowd, where you just have to block all that stuff out. Because if you don’t, the game is over.”
Tanner (12-2) kept pace for the most of the game, but an 8-0 Austin (11-5) run in the second quarter was too much for the Rattlers to overcome. The Black Bears took a 32-20 cushion into halftime, with Elliott scoring 10 of his 17 points in the first half.
“These last two wins were huge for us because we had kind of hit a bump in our season,” Garth said. “The guys have really responded. Right now our guys are really playing their tales off as far as being a physical basketball team.
“Malique, he’s scoring the way we need him to, and Everette is controlling the team better. Everything is starting to come back together.”
Tanner made a couple of runs late. The Rattlers pulled within seven twice in the third quarter — both times on Greg Maclin shots. He finished with 14 points.
Fred Rich and Justin Smith made shots to pull Tanner within six in the fourth quarter, but Mayes and company were too strong down the stretch, finishing the game with a 15-8 run.
Mayes finished with 15 points and five assists, while Camron Reedus poured in 18 points for Austin.
Smith had 11 points for Tanner, and Rich added 10.
Now on a two-game winning streak, Mayes said the vibe inside Austin’s locker room is that Black Bears are getting poised for a strong finish to the season — and a potential postseason run.
“Coach had a big talk with us after we lost those two games (to Decatur and James Clemens),” Mayes said. “The main thing he focused on was leadership and that’s one of the role’s I’m trying to fulfill. I think it’s all starting to come together now. There’s a good feeling in here right now.”
Austin girls 58, Tanner 35: The Black Bears got fast starts in both halves, building a commanding 27-point cushion by the start of the fourth quarter.
Austin (14-5) opened the game with a 21-9 run and built a 15-point cushion by halftime. The Black Bears opened the third quarter with a 17-5 run.
Katie Speegle led Austin with 12 points, while Takisha Jordan added 10. Tyra Johnson finished with eight points for the Black Bears.
Kelsey Houston led Tanner with 18 points, finishing with six 3-pointers.
“We really started well,” Austin coach Bruce Hamilton said. “But we’ve been gradually getting better. With a team that has so many spread out through different grades, most of the season has been about getting our younger players used to their roles. I think things are coming together, or at least that’s what I hope. I know that we have gotten better.”
That much is apparent. With two freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup, Austin has played itself back into familiar position as a team poised to contend for area title — and possibly challenge for a spot in the Class 6A Northwest Regional.
“I hope that’s the case,” Hamilton said. “I think things are coming together, but I do know this: We still have room for improvement.”
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