Scoring drought costs Etowah in regional championship game

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Photo: Etowah’s Josh Graham (left) drives the ball upcourt as Jacksonville’s Ceden Johnson pursues during the Blue Devils’ 71-52 loss in the Northeast Regional Tournament Class 4A boys basketball finals last Wednesday (Feb. 22) at Jacksonville State. (Courtesy of Average Joe’s Sports Talk) 

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

For the second time in four years, the Etowah boys basketball team finished a game shy of making he program’s first-ever Final Four appearance.
The Blue Devils’ season ended in the Northeast Regional Tournament semifinals last Wednesday (Feb. 22), where Etowah lost to Jacksonville, 71-52, at Jacksonville State University.
Although the Golden Ea-gles (27-6) led wire to wire, Etowah remained very much in the game up until two minutes remained in the third quarter, when Omareon Finch’s layup drew the Attalla squad within three points.
But the next time Etowah scored from the field came with 22 seconds left in the game, and by that time Jacksonville was ahead by 22 points.
During that span, Jacksonville outscored the Blue Devils 24 to 4. Etowah never got closer than nine points during the fourth quarter, when with about five minutes left the Golden Eagles played keep-away with the four-corner offense.
“Once [Jacksonville got up in the fourth quarter, they started holding the ball and slowed everything down.,” said Etowah head coach James Graves. “They handle the ball really well, so it was hard to steal [the ball]. That’s basically how they stretch that lead out. We couldn’t trap and press them like we usually do, because they were so much longer than us. They weren’t just tall; they knew how to play.”
Etowah struggled from the field, including a 2-for-11 performance from the three-point line.
“[Jacksonville] made six three-points and we made two,” said Graves. “That’s a 12-point differnce right there.”
In addition, Jacksonville had 18 points off fast breaks to Etowah’s 2 and 15 points to Etowah’s six in points off turnovers.
“That’s a big difference in the ball game,” said Graves. “If we shot the ball better in the fourth quarter, it would have been a different game.”
Josh Graham paced Eto-wah with 21 points, while Jalein Walker finished with 12. Finch pulled down nine rebounds, followed by Jameson Scissum with seven and Walker with five. Graham and Walker made the all-tournament team.
Caden Johnson and John Broom each scored 19 points for Jacksonville, followed by Devin Barksdale with 12 and Cam Johnson with 10.
The Golden Eagles pushed Etowah back on its heels out of the gate, building leads of 10-2 and 20-8 in the first quarter. The Blue Devils eventually settled in and rallied within 23-18 after eight minutes.
Graham’s put-back five minutes into the second period drew Etowah within two points at 26-24, but a subsequent cold stretch from the field proved costly, as Jacksonville soon built a double-digit lead at 35-25.
The Blue Devils managed to close within 37-30 at halftime.
“Our kids played hard and played fair and competed, and that’s all I can ask for as a coach,” said Graves. “This was a fun group to coach, and I enjoyed the entire year. These kids played the right way and they played with discipline, and I’m very proud of them for that. I always tell them that when they see me get a tech [foul], they can get one, and never get tee’d up.”

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