When Athens and Alexander played on the football field last fall, the game determined which team would stay in the division race and which team would fall behind. Now the two schools meet on the hardwood, each team fighting to stay above .500 in league play.
Both teams will enter Friday’s game in The Plains with a 2-2 league record and in a four-way tie for second place.
Attending school only a few miles apart from one other, players from each squad know their opponents as merely X’s and O’s.
“The kids and teams are very familiar with each other both personally and athletically,” Athens head coach Jeff Skinner said. “There will be no secrets or surprises out of either team.”
Alexander is coming off an upset win against crosstown foe Nelsonville-York, and the Spartans are hoping to use the positive energy generated from that win against the Bulldogs.
The Spartans had been winless in their previous four games before the 16-point rout of Nelsonville-York.
“Well, we’re pretty amped for it, and we’re just trying to use that as a springboard and try to carry that over into the Athens game,” Alexander coach Blaine Gabriel said.
After a four-game win streak earlier this season, the Bulldogs are now in the midst of a stretch in which they have lost four consecutive games. The Spartans will attempt to clamp down and keep the Bulldogs’ self-esteem low.
“Athens is very talented,” Gabriel said. “We’ve just got to try to keep pressure on them and not let them get comfortable with their shots.”
Although lacking in size and experience, the Spartans have been able to use their speed to keep their opponents off-balanced.
With a height disadvantage, Alexander has been out-rebounded in most of its games this season but continues to work hard on the fundamentals of hitting the glass.
“We try to use our quickness to a certain point, but you know we just … we’ve been working,” Gabriel said. “We can’t out-jump anybody — our point guard is 5-foot-2, our guy in the paint is about 5-foot-9. We just use the technique of boxing out and go that route.”
As for Athens, the Bulldogs also lack considerable size. Defensively, the key for them might be stopping Alexander’s Braden Jones, who has been lighting up the scoreboard in recent weeks.
“Braden Jones is a tough defensive assignment for anybody,” Skinner said.
Friday’s action in The Plains begins at 7:15 p.m.