Athens has already won more games this season than last, and the defensive performance has been key to the team’s success.
The Bulldogs are holding opponents to 44.6 points per game, while using multiple defenses that teams have to prepare to deal with.
"That's one thing I think we do really well, we play really good defense and we did that tonight (Saturday)," Athens coach Mickey Cozart said after the 53-38 win over Alexander.
The Bulldogs (13-4, 9-1 Tri-Valley Conference Ohio) are able to play multiple defenses and switch between them throughout games. Athens is mainly known for its 2-3 zone defense that prevents teams from getting the ball into the post. It forces opponents into making bad passes that can be stolen.
The man defense has been used in certain games when Athens wants to shut down the one or two main scorers for opponents.
Athens started the game Saturday against Alexander in its man defense, which stifled the Alexander offense. Cozart was forced to change to the 2-3 zone as Logan Maxfield and Brayden Markins committed their third fouls in the second quarter.
One of the main problems of man defense is the foul trouble that can occur rapidly, as Athens had a defensive possession in the first half where it committed four fouls. Athens played zone the rest of the game with neither Maxfield or Markins picking up another foul.
The length and height of the Bulldogs has helped them find success in zone defense, as they are able to tip passes and disrupt the flow of the opponent’s offense.
When Athens is able to get a turnover, 55 in the last three games, its guards are able to start fast breaks often as they are positioned at the edge of the 3-point line. Maxfield and Elijah Williams are constantly getting steals that lead to easy layups for both of them.
Athens is able to shutdown post players with the zone as Isaiah Butcher stands in the center of the post, not allowing easy baskets. When Butcher sits, Athens is able to slide Justin Hynes into the position.
Alexander’s 6-foot-11-inch center Caleb Terry only had one basket Saturday and struggled to touch the ball with the zone defense being played.
The man defense gives Athens the ability to use its good on-ball defenders to stop opponents from getting the open space they need to make their shots. Maxfield will guard the best scorer on the other team and prevent the ball from even touching his hands.
That leaves other players with the ball in their hands more than normal, such as Williams, Markins and Andrew Stephens.
The final five games of the regular season could see Athens wrap up the TVC Ohio Division title if it wins its remaining two conference games against Meigs and Wellston. The three nonconference games will include two teams who have a combined 25-8 record.
Athens held Meigs to 41 points in the first meeting and Wellston to 40 points in wins over both teams.
The game against Meigs is Friday night. Athens plays Wellston on Feb. 12.