Photo: Etowah High’s Emil Smith (10) and Taylor Berry defend Clay-Chalkville’s Brandon Harper during the Blue Devils’ 66-58 victory on Monday (Dec. 18) in Attalla. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
With his team trailing Class 6A Clay-Chalkville by two points at halftime, Etowah High boys head basketball coach James Graves imparted some simple advice to his players – work for better shot selection and pick up the intensity on defense.
“I told them that if we could keep guarding them and defending them, we would come back and win the game,” he said. “Our shots started falling and we got some stops on the other end, and before you knew it, we were up by 10 points.”
It also helped that the 5A Blue Devils (7-2) used a full-court pressure man-to-man defense for most of the second half. That strategy that paid off with several points off turnovers while frustrating the Cougars’ long-range sharpshooters on the way to a 66-58 victory.
“I think we really wore them down with the press,” said Graves. “They got tired at the end of the third quarter and we were able to get some easy buckets off transition.”
Trailing 29-27 at intermission, Etowah took the lead for good at the 6:22 mark of the third period on DeRickey Wright’s three-point basket. The Blue Devils outscored Clay-Chalkville 12-5 over the remainder of the quarter to take a 44-36 lead. Etowah limited the visitors to just four points from the field during the third frame.
“We got into their passing lanes and they had to really work to get their shots off,” said Graves. “We also boxed out well and got some rebounds that led to points.”
Etowah continued to apply stiff defensive pressure in the fourth quarter, while on the other end of the court the Blue Devils found space to operate on the perimeter. Wright, Emil Smith, Alec Timmons and Taylor Berry all knocked down three-point baskets to keep the visitors at bay. Although the Cougars had difficulty scoring from the field, they kept within striking distance at the foul line. Clay-Chalkville shot 7-for-7 at the free throw line over the final 4:40 to narrow the gap to eight points, but consecutive slam dunks by Jamin Graham and a pair of foul shots from Timmons in the final minute put the game out of reach.
Graham paced the Blue Devils with 16 points, followed by Smith with 15, Berry with 12 and
Wright with 11. The Blue Devils shot 57 percent (12-for-21) from the foul line but visited the charity stripe just twice in the second half.
Clay-Chalkville emerged from the first quarter with an 11-9 lead, Trevon’s Caldwell’s trey midway through the second period provided the hosts with a 20-18 advantage. The remainder of the first half went back and forth, with Brandon Harper’s basket at the buzzer putting the Cougars up 29-27 at the break.
Nick Howard paved Clay-Chalkville with 16 points, while Harper added 14.
“Our kids competed hard, and that’s all you can ask for,” said Graves. “Hopefully we can build on this when area play comes around, because we have some tough games ahead of us.”