By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
Kevin Troup has been the Southside boys basketball coach for six years.
In each season, his team reached the championship game of the Etowah County Schools tournament.
For the fourth time in Troup’s tenure, the Panthers won the tournament title, this season with a 53-48 win over rival Hokes Bluff last Saturday (Jan. 19) at Beck Field House on the campus of Gadsden State.
Southside (14-5) withstood an early barrage to slowly pull away and hold off a stubborn Hokes Bluff squad, which had to play most of the night without 7-foot-2 Issac Haas, who sat on the bench in foul trouble.
“We knew we had to go at the big kid (Haas),” Troup said. “He’s a dominant player and such a good player. There were certain things we tried to do to attack him. We got him in foul trouble, and then we knew we could attack the rim.”
Haas committed his first foul at the 4:12 mark of the opening quarter. He was whistled for his second foul early in the second quarter, sending him to the bench for the remainder of the half. The junior center was held scoreless in the opening half, as Class 5A Southside and Class 4A, No. 6 Hokes Bluff (15-5) went to the locker room tied 27-27.
Still, Eagles coach Greg Watkins was pleased with his team’s performance at that point.
“Isaac getting into foul trouble took us out of what we were trying to do a little bit,” Watkins said. “We kept it close with him on the bench. I give our guys credit. They scrapped and our guys did a pretty good job and gave us a chance to win. It’s one of those deals where you just have to deal with it.”
Early on, Watkins’ squad dealt Southside a solid opening punch, as the Eagles raced out to a 9-0 lead before the Panthers were able to settle down and get into their game plan.
Troup’s plan to nullify Hokes Bluff’s advantage in the paint paid off. With Haas on the bench heading into the second quarter, Southside was able to gain a 14-13 lead.
Southside was able to extend its lead after halftime, getting into the lane and crashing the boards while Hokes Bluff’s big center was off the floor.
Southside built its biggest lead with :14 left in the third quarter, when Drew Mullinax hit one of two free throws for a 43-38 advantage.
Hokes Bluff answered at the buzzer when Charlie Reed’s offensive rebound and basket narrowed the deficit to 43-40 heading into the final quarter.
Haas was whistled for his fourth foul early in the final quarter, not long after Tanner Shields’ 3-point basket tied the score, 43-43.
Moments later, Mullinax broke the tie with a 3-pointer of his own, followed by another basket, for a 48-43 lead. The Panthers never trailed after that.
The only drama left came at the 2:38 mark when Haas scored his first – and only – basket of the game. He was fouled on the play, but Haas missed the free throw, leaving the deficit 50-48.
Chris Leonhardt sealed the Panther win when he nailed a pair of free throws with :07 left.
“It’s great to bring the trophy back on the other side of the bridge where it belongs,” Troup said after the game. “I’m proud of the kids and the coaching staff. This team is gelling at the right time. I’m glad at how hard they’ve worked. The camaraderie is there, the coaching staff is there. We’re growing each and every night, right in front of our eyes.”
Tournament MVP Mullinax led the way for the Panthers with 15 points and three assists. Saige Benson also scored 15 points while grabbing five rebounds. Leonhardt scored 10 points and pulled down five rebounds.
For Hokes Bluff, Shields scored 15 points, followed by Brad Robertson with 11 points.
Joining Mullinax on the All-Tournament team were Leonhardt, Benson and Kyle Mann for Southside; Shields, Haas and Robertson for Hokes Bluff; Sardis’ Will Scott; Glencoe’s Austin Hancock and Scott Bradley; and West End’s Caleb Mayo and Raymond Chapman.