ATHENS — Dribbling near the top of the circle, Nathanial Potts noticed a perfect opportunity to make an aggressive statement.
Potts' younger brother, Trey, had been left unguarded on the backside of Russellville's defense, so why not lob the ball up and let him make a play?
Message sent. Statement made.
Trey Potts grabbed the lob pass and dunked on Athens' second possession, energizing a talented team that's been playing with momentum on its side throughout the second half of the season.
The Golden Eagles rode that wave of energy, beating Russellville 71-45 Friday night to claim the top seed in the Class 5A, Area 16 tournament.
"That's something we've been working on," Trey Potts said of the lob pass. "It felt good to get started like that."
Based on performance, it appears his Athens teammates agree.
Athens controlled the tempo — and almost every other facet of the game. When coach Stace Tedford began to take out most of his starters late in the third quarter, the Golden Eagles had outrebounded Russellville 31-12 and led by more than 20 points.
And every personnel combination Tedford put on the floor was effective.
Athens' biggest star, Nathanial Potts, did his normal thing, finishing with 12 points. Trey Potts poured in 15 points, with 11 coming in the first quarter, while Jackson Pettus added 11.
"That's a good sign," Tedford said. "Early in the year, we lived and died on what ‘Giddy' (Nathanial Potts) did. But right now, everybody is concentrating on him so much, we're having to get big games from everyone else. And our supporting cast, they've been dynamite. They've got us rolling."
"Rolling" is a good assessment. During the past three seasons, Athens is 16-1 in area play — and 11-0 during the past two seasons.
"And that's a big deal for us," Tedford said. "The playoffs are hard enough, so you always want the advantage of playing the area tournament here at home. We're really excited about what's coming up and having an opportunity to something special."
The Golden Eagles are enjoying the moment.
Watching Athens' bench during the fourth quarter, it was apparent that these are good times for a proud basketball program. Even in a lopsided win, all of the players were engaged.
Starters gave reserves instructions, cheering them on as they played out the final minutes.
And the home crowd? They obviously enjoy the passion. Athens' large and creative student section was lively throughout the game, creating an energetic basketball environment — something that's been present this season at most home games.
"We're always going to keep our heads in the game and support our teammates," Nathanial Potts said. "That's just us trying to get better."
As for that regular season area title?
"That's important. That's always a goal," he said. "But we've still got a lot of goals to reach. If we keep working hard, we'll get to where we need to be."
Athens girls 63, Russellville 28: Jasmin Lucas poured in 17 points and eight assists to lead Athens past Russellville.
The Golden Eagles dominated from start to finish, using full-court pressure and balanced offensive attack to build a 34-16 cushion by halftime.
Destiny Bailey finished with 14 points and four assists for the Golden Eagles, while Tariona Adams tossed in 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Athens' 6-foot-2 center, Alliyah Smith, did not score, but she did finish with eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
Ashley Dunstan led Russellville with 16 points.
Justin Graves can be contacted at 256-340-2460 or by email at email@example.com.
|High School Sports||@DecaturPreps|