Photo: Etowah High’s Emil Smith (left) eyes the basket as teammate Jamin Graham looks on and Southside’s Gavin Orr defends during the Blue Devils’ 59-58 overtime victory in boys basketball last Monday (Jan. 29) in Attalla. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Add this week’s Etowah/Southside boys basketball game to the list of classic athletic contests between the longtime county rivals.
It took overtime and a key defensive play by the Class 5A No. 8 Blue Devils to put away the Panthers by a score of 59-58 last Monday (Jan. 29) in Attalla.
After erasing an eight-point halftime deficit, Etowah (20-4) could not maintain a seven-point lead down the stretch. The hosts failed to score from the field over the final four minutes of regulation, and Tristan Riggan’s free throw with 17.8 on the clock capped an 8-0 run and sent the game into the extra session tied at 53-53.
Both squads managed just one field goal in overtime. Alec Timmons’ basket and respective foul shots from Emil Smith and Justin Harris made it a 57-55 EHS advantage with 42 seconds left. The Blue Devils attempted to run the remaining seconds down for a final shot, but Etowah turned the ball over with 25 seconds on the clock.
The Panthers inbounded the ball and were setting up a game-tying shot attempt when Timmons stole the ball at the top of the key and passed to DeRicky Wright at midcourt. The sophomore forward laid the ball in with three seconds left.
Southside quickly got the ball to Riggan, who knocked down a too-little, too-late three-pointer at the buzzer.
Etowah head coach James Graves pointed to his team’s defensive mindset in the second half as the main factor in the win.
“We struggled in the first half and gave up layup and layup, especially when we were in the halfcourt defense. We weren’t communicating on defense and weren’t switching on the backdoor cuts. It seemed like every time we left [Southside] open, they made their shots. We talked at halftime about dialing up the defensive intensity, getting points off turnover and protecting the ball, and for the most part, we did that.”
Graves reserved special praise for Southside senior center Gavin Orr, who finished with 15 points.
“That big boy gave us some problems tonight. He got us into foul trouble and made it tough on us. I told our guys to try to get in front of him, and they told me that it was like moving a Mack truck. He was having his way with us from the first through the third [quarter].”
Riggan and Devin Laster each added 12 points for the Panthers.
“I was really proud of how our kids battled,” said Southside head coach Chad Holderfield. “With these two teams, it’s a fun environment to play and coach in. I feel like it makes our kids mentally tough, and that should help in the area tournament. The end result wasn’t what we wanted it to be, but our kids battled tooth and nail, and I couldn’t be more proud of their effort.”
Eight points from Orr helped the Panthers break out to an early 21-13 lead before Jailyn Jackson’s buzzer-beating trey pulled Etowah within 21-16 after one quarter.
An 8-2 stretch by the Blue Devils tied the game at 24-24 midway through the second period, but with Etowah junior center Jamin Graham on the bench with foul trouble, the visitors ended the first half on an 11-3 run for a 35-27 halftime advantage.
But the Blue Devils raised their defensive effort a few more notches in the second half, holding Southside to six points in the third quarter. At the other end of the floor, a pair of three-pointers by Timmons and six points from Graham helped Etowah take a 43-41 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“Etowah is a team that lives off of runs, and you’ve got to respond to that,” said Holderfield. “And I felt that we did respond, because we were there the whole time. But at the end of the day, [Etowah] just made a few more shots than we did.”
It was a hard-fought battle over the final eight minutes. After Jackson’s three-pointer provided the Blue Devils with a 52-45 lead with just under four minutes left, Southside drew within 53-52 on Riggan’s basket at 1:38. The Panthers soon had to foul to regain possession, which they did when Etowah missed the front end of a one-and-one with 35 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing possession Riggan drove the lane and was fouled, and his free throw at 17.8 sent the game into overtime.
Neither team shot particularly well from the free throw line. Etowah was 9-for-19 (47 percent), while Southside made 7-of-15 attempts (46 percent).
“If we made a few more free throws down the stretch, we would have put the game away,” said Graves. “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and concentrate. In order for us to be where we need to be and beat really good teams, we’re going to have to do a lot better job in that area.”
Graham led the Blue Devils with 14 points, followed by Smith with 12, Timmons with 11, Jackson with seven and Wright with six.
“Southside came to play tonight, which I knew they would,” said Graves. “We’re fortunate to come out with a win. I think I called more time-outs tonight than I did in the last four games. It was definitely a good learning experience for us.”