Photo: Etowah High’s Taylor Berry knocks down one of his seven three-point baskets during the Blue Devils’ 75-70 loss to Talladega in the Northeast Regional Tournament Class 5A championship game on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at Jacksonville State. (Gary Wells)
By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
The Etowah High boys basketball team came in to the Northeast Regional Tournament Class 5A championship game against Talladega one step away from the Final Four in Birmingham.
Blue Devil head coach James Graves, however, knew it would not be easy to advance to the next level against the Tigers on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at Jacksonville State.
Leading 43-40 at the halftime break, Etowah’s full-court pressure defense created numerous turnovers and the taller Blue Devils seemed to control the game early on. But the quick guard play of Talladega and the early exit of Etowah’s Derickey Wright due to foul trouble would dictate the eventual outcome of the game.
Wright picked up his fourth foul late in the third quarter, and Graves made the decision to leave him in the game.
“He’s played in foul trouble before and been okay.”
But Wright fouled out with 2:47 remaining in the quarter, and Talladega cut the Etowah lead to 56-54 heading into the final eight minutes.
The Tigers took the lead for good with 1:01 to go at 71-70 on a lay-up by Chaztin Turner, and Talladega scored the game’s final four points to take a 75-70 win and claim the regional championship.
Etowah led for a little over 26 minutes of clock time, but the Tigers had a 20 to 8 edge in points off turnovers.
“We just didn’t take care of the basketball,” said Graves. “We just made some bad decisions when we had a two-on-one or a three-on-one break. Our players didn’t take (offensive) charges like they should have, and instead we reached in and got called for a foul.”
Helped by 13 points from Taylor Berry, Etowah jumped out to a quick 10-point first quarter lead in a fast-paced game. The Blue Devils (25-6) led 28-24 after the first eight minutes of play. Berry finished the first half with 18 points and a game-high 28. He ended up with seven three-point baskets.
Jamin Graham added 16 points for the Blue Devils, followed by Emil Smith and Alec Timmons with eight points each. Graham and Timmons both had 10 rebounds, while Berry pulled down nine and Justin Harris grabbed seven. Timmons and Graham had four and three blocks, respectively, while Smith dished out five assists.
Talladega (21-10) placed three players in double figures – Ashton Duncan with 26 points, D’juante Dickerson with 18 and Jequerius Wilson with 16.
“I wished that I stood in victory rather than defeat (after the game),” said Graves. “I hurt for my four seniors (Timmons, Jailyn Jackson, Trevon Caldwell and Evan Jones) who closed out their careers with a loss.”