Blue Devils returning to regionals

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Photo: Etowah boys basketball coach James Graves cuts down a section of the basketball goal net as Jameson Scissum (right) celebrates following the Blue Devils’ 74-62 victory over New Hope in the Class 4A subregional playoffs last Tuesday (Feb. 14) in Attalla. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

The Etowah High boys basketball team is back in familiar territory.
The Blue Devils earned a berth in the Northeast Regional Tournament for the first time in three years with a 74-62 victory over New Hope in the Class 4A subregional playoffs last Tuesday (Feb. 14) in Attalla.
Etowah (19-7) faces White Plains in the regional semifinals this Saturday (Feb. 18) at Jacksonville State.
“We let it get away last year by missing some free throws down the stretch [in the subregional round], but our kids stepped up big tonight,” said Etowah head coach James Graves.
The Blue Devils cruised for most of the way against New Hope until the midway point of the fourth quarter, when a 19-9 stretch by the visitors trimmed the Etowah lead from 20 points to 10 with less than two minutes remaining.
“We got a little lackadaisical and gave up some open 3’s and let [New Hope] drive to the basket,” said Graves. “We didn’t do what we were supposed to do defensively, and [New Hope] took advantage. New Hope’s a good team that has three or four guys that can spread the floor and attack the basket, and they made us have to work for it.”
The Indians soon got into foul trouble, however, and Etowah made enough free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
For the Blue Devils, Jalien Walker finished with 23 points and six rebounds, while Josh Graham contributed 22 points and seven boards. Andrew Pierce posted a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds. He scored 12 of his points during the fourth quarter. Omareon Finch cleared 14 rebounds.
“Andrew played really well for us on the inside,” said Graves. “He went toe to toe with [Riley McGehee], who is a big boy, and held his own and got some big baskets for us. For the past four or five games, Josh has really come into his own. He can handle the ball and shoot it and get to the basket, plus he’s a good defender. Jailen has been outstanding and he’s shooting really well from the outside. He really got us going in the first half.”
Kolt Acklin paced New Hope with 23 points, followed by Dawson Cambron with 14, Riley McGehee with 12 and Lucas Terry with 10.
The Blue Devils took the lead for good at 13-11 on a pair of foul shots by Pierce late in the first quarter. Graham and Jalien Walker each scored eight points to help give Etowah a 20-12 advanatge after the first eight minutes.
The hosts opened the second period with three straight 3-point baskets, two of them from Walker. McGehee scored 10 of New Hope’s 13 points during the quarter to keep New Hope within striking distance, but Graham’s basket in the final minute of the first half gave Etowah a 39-25 lead at intermission.
The Blue Devils widened the gap to 51-33 after New Hope went scoreless from the field for most of the third quarter.
Pierce scored the first 10 Etowah points of the fourth period to provide the Blue Devils with a 60-40 lead with less than six minutes remaining. But a subsequent 9-3 run kept the Indians in the game, and Bolden’s three-pointer with 1:49 to go cut the deficit to 69-59.
That turned out to be the high-water mark for New Hope, as the Indians managed only three points the rest of the way. Etowah then operated out of the four-corner offense in order to drain the game clock.
Graves noted that his competitive non-area schedule during the regular season is paying dividends during the playoffs.
“I’d rather go 4-20 and get to Jacksonville than be 20-4 and not make it out of the area [tournament]. Playing tough 6A and 7A teams got us prepared for games like tonight. You may take some lumps, but you won’t run into anything you haven’t already seen with traps and different kinds of defenses.”

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