By Gene Stanley/Sports Correspondent
It was a bittersweet game for Greg Watkins.
After 25 years as a high school basketball coach, including 20 seasons at Hokes Bluff, the coach was finally seeing his team on the big stage on Thursday (Feb.20).
Watkins earlier announced he was retiring from basketball after this season. So it was a bonus in the home stretch of his career for his team to make it to the Northeast Regional Tournament for the first time.
“This is a team that has done great things to build the program,” Isaac Haas said. “People will start looking at us now as a threat.”
Haas indeed was a big threat in the No. 4 Eagles 56-50 loss to No. 2 Madison County. The senior center and Purdue University signee scored 22 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked nine shots. He shot 70 percent (9-for-13) from the field.
Haas scored 16 of the points and blocked eight of the shots in the second half, as the Tigers (23-5) were forced to stop triple-teaming him on every possession.
In fact, Haas was so dominant in the paint that Madison County rarely tried to go inside in the second half.
In the third quarter, the Tigers’ shots were falling as they increased their already substantial lead by seven points.
Madison County stopped hitting so many shots in the fourth quarter, however, and Hokes Bluff (27-6) was able to bring the score back to respectability.
“I’m so proud of the guys for never quitting,” Watkins said. “They hustled and did everything they could to catch back up.”
The Tigers held as much as a 20-point lead in the third quarter.
The lead opened up in the second quarter, as Madison County led only 13-11 after one quarter. By halftime, it was up to 30-21 and was 50-34 after three quarters.
Then came the fourth quarter and the furious Eagle comeback. The rally was aided by Madison County, which backed off its full-court press.
Brack Shields added 12 points for the Eagles (27-6), including a perfect 10-for-10 effort from the free throw line. He also had four assists and four steals.
Tyrell Clary paced Madison County with 13 points.
Haas was selected to the all-tournament team.
“We stepped it up after the first quarter,” Tigers coach Bubba Webster said. “That’s really the only reason we started pulling away – playing the game better.”