’Cats clinch NTL East
TOWANDA — Athens had its defense clicking — and the offense wasn’t too shabby either — as the Wildcats ran out to a 23-point halftime advantage and cruised to a 66-51 victory over Towanda Wednesday evening.
The victory clinched the NTL East title for the ’Cats (9-0) who currently hold a 2 1/2-game lead over the Black Knights and three-game cushion over Sayre with two league contests left on their schedule.
“I thought defensively we played real well in the second quarter,” said Athens coach Bob Fauver. “We stopped their penetration. We didn’t give up the threes, which got us the lead. Offensively, I thought we were pushing the ball well, but really it was defense that gave us the gap. We didn’t give them the threes. We didn’t give them second shots and we were able to attack them on the open floor.”
Towanda actually hung with the visitors early in the opening quarter, despite Mark Wright’s soft touch on short jumpers in the paint that helped Athens build a 19-14 lead.
Garrett Clark then started a 14-0 run, feeding Luke Wright underneath, and Mark Wright finished out the period with a basket to make it 23-14. Ray McDougan and Luke Wright continued the run in the second quarter with seven and three points, respectively. Athens added a 6-0 spurt going into the break, McDougan wrapping it up with a three-point play.
The Black Knights opened the second half with five quick points while holding Athens scoreless for more than four minutes, But Brandon Fauver traded a series of three-pointers with the opponents to keep them down by 20 late in the period.
The hosts’would drain eight of their 11 treys after intermission in an effort to rally. Casey Huff canned a pair and Mason Roof and Dave Rodenhizer added one each as the Black Knights closed the gap to 51-32 with one period to play.
“I told the guys at halftime, ‘the first three minutes of this third quarter is critical. You can’t let them get hope, make some shots and go in,’” said Fauver. “I didn’t think we moved the ball well enough against the zone, rushed some shots and they made some big threes there - by the white line. They go in and we’ve got to deal with them. This is what we need as we move forward. We got a little bit of a run, hostile environment, kids responded, so I’m pleased.”
Huff and his younger brother, Noah, threw down a trey apiece to highlight a 10-0 Towanda run early in the fourth, closing the gap to 53-42. Although the Wildcats’ didn’t appear too worried, it brought the hometown crowd back to life.
“They made some big shots, can’t take that away from them,” said Bob Fauver. “They made some deep threes. Maybe we could have defended a little bit more, maybe not let them get the ball, but that’s part of the game. That’s things to work on in practice.”
Mark Wright sandwiched a pair of baskets around the last of Brandon Fauver’s three treys on the night, pushing the lead to 60-44 with less than three minutes remaining, ultimately sealing the victory.
Despite sewing up the NTL East title, the coach doesn’t believe his charges are ready to kick back and relax.
“We clinched, but I don’t think this group came to just finish tonight,” he said. “They’ve got bigger sights on their minds. We’ve still got three games left. I think they want to run the table. I told them we’ve worked too hard and came too far. We won tonight, but if we don’t go on farther, it really doesn’t mean too much.”
Mark Wright paced the Wildcats with 17 points and also contributed six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks. Luke Wright had a double double with 14 points and 10 boards to go with six assists and two blocks. McDougan chipped in with 14 points, eight boards and two steals. He was also 6-for-7 at the free throw line. Robert and Brandon Fauver added nine and six points, respectively, all on treys. Craig Moore pitched in with six points and Garrett Clark nine assists and blocked one shot.
Casey Huff led all scorers with 20 points, 18 coming from downtown, while Mason Roof contributed 18 points.
Athens (9-0, 16-2) hosts Troy on Friday night.
JV: Jarrett Priester and Brandon Fauver scored 15 points and Dan Moyer added 11 more as Athens won, 48-40. Tristan James paced Towanda with nine.