By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
When sports writers talk about the top basketball teams in the state they should remember the Titans, for the Hoover Bucs will not soon forget.
Hoover defeated Gadsden City in the Big Orange Classic on Dec. 28, 53-48, handing the Titans their first loss of the season. Since then, every Titan player, coach and fan eagerly awaited Feb. 6 – the date the Bucs would visit Gadsden.
Not to make excuses, but most agree that poor free throw shooting doomed the Titans in the first match with Hoover.
The much-anticipated rematch between Gadsden City and Hoover was everything Titan fans hoped for. The Bucs experienced the up-tempo, wild ride that is “Titan Basketball.”
To quote senior point guard Jalen Strong, the Titans “brought it” in the rematch.
Sixth-ranked Gadsden City convincingly whipped third-ranked Hoover on Feb. 6, 58-47, in front of a packed Titan gymnasium, a television audience, internet streamers and the ears of radio listeners.
“We’re for real and we proved it tonight,” Titan head coach Reginald Huff said. “To win the Class 6A state championship, you’ve gotta go through Gadsden City.”
The Titans outscored the visiting Bucs 14-8 in the third quarter to extend their lead to 39-24 heading into the final frame.
Hoover’s offense did not find its rhythm until late in the fourth quarter. The Bucs battled late in the final period and outscored Gadsden City, 20-19.
The Titans led by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter.
Huff said the key to victory was the Titans’ low-game.
“We worked the ball down to our big guys and made them play defense, which got them into foul trouble. When their big guys had to sit [because of foul trouble] we were able to really pound the ball off the post.”
Two of Hoover’s starting forwards reached four fouls each early in the game – one in the second quarter and another in the first minute of the second half.
Gadsden City swarmed Hoover with a furious array of full-court presses and half-court traps, complimented by a stingy group of post players who blocked shots and grabbed virtually every offensive rebound available, the entire game.
Huff said the Titans were able to build the early lead because of Buc turnovers. Hoover made ten turnovers in the first quarter and 26 the entire game.
“Our defense played great, especially in the first half. We pressed in the first quarter and were able to get quite a few points off of turnovers. That lead lasted the rest of the game.”
Gadsden City led 8-0 before Hoover scored its first basket, with 48 seconds remaining in the opening quarter. The Titans led 11-5 at the end of the first break.
The Bucs’ offense awoke in the second quarter, outscoring the Titans 13-11. Gadsden City commanded a 24-16 lead at intermission.
Jalen Strong led the Titans with 16 points, including five in the first quarter. Stong also made five steals, pulled four rebounds and handed out five assists.
Rakim Lubin scored 12 points with three rebounds for Gadsden City, while De’Keviyan Davis netted eight. Forward Zack Burns pulled four boards for the Titans.
The most impressive statistic for Gadsden City is the free throw percentage. The Titans shot 68 percent from the charity stripe on Feb. 6, an improvement from the team’s 56 percent performance thus far on the season.
“When we hit our free throws, it solidifies our game,” Huff said. “We have missed a few this year and it has cost us four games. We are improving every game. I’m really proud of how the guys reacted tonight.”
Gadsden City improved its record to 24-4 and will host the Class 6A, Area 14 tournament, which begins Feb. 10. The Titans will face Pell City at 6 p.m.