Athens needed someone to step up.
The Bulldogs were down three with less than 90 seconds left in regulation of their 43-40 overtime win over Logan Elm.
Elijah Williams stepped up. The only practice he participated in this week was at the shoot around Thursday due to an injury.
He drew a foul and went to the free throw line where Athens had struggled throughout the night. Williams made both free throws, the only player for Athens to do that all game, to close the deficit to one with a minute left.
The defense then did its job of forcing Logan Elm into a bad spot and Williams was able to steal the ball. Williams then missed a shot, but Justin Hynes grabbed the offensive rebound and Athens called a timeout.
A missed 3-pointer was rebounded by Hynes, and he was fouled by Logan Elm to go to the free-throw line. Hynes made the first one to tie the game but missed the second.
Athens got the offensive rebound again but missed three shots before the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.
After the late comeback Athens (17-6) was able to control the game in overtime and beat Logan Elm to win the sectional championship and advance to the district tournament in The Convo for the second time in three years.
Hynes gave the Bulldogs the lead in overtime with a layup 15 seconds into the period, and Logan Maxfield rounded out the scoring with his second basket of the game with two minutes left.
“This is a senior packed basketball team, this is what they're supposed to do,” Athens coach Mickey Cozart said. “We expect it from (Maxfield).”
Then, the Athens defense had to focus, as Logan Elm had the ball for almost the entire two minutes. Logan Elm had to call two timeouts as it struggled to break Athens’ zone defense and missed three 3-pointers.
“They didn't have a very good look. The shot they had in the corner we had a heck of a trap on that thing and you know I thought we played it well," Cozart said.
Williams didn’t start the game, and Cozart was unsure how he would play once he put Williams in after three minutes. He led the Bulldogs with 13 points and barely sat. He was crucial to Athens breaking the Braves’ press.
At the start of the third quarter, Athens went on a run to extend its lead to seven, the largest for either team all game, but Logan Elm responded with its own 8-0 run. Cozart was unhappy that the Bulldogs could not keep the lead.
“We needed to put that thing away then, but we didn't,” Cozart said. “We had some bonehead mistakes and we got sped up.”
The rest of the game neither team was able to get in offensive rhythm as the defenses stepped up and caused turnovers.
After two early 3-pointers by Logan Elm, Cozart switched to a zone. The Braves only made one 3-pointer the rest of the game and struggled to get open shots.
“They were really patient, they're a well-coached team,” Hynes said. “They were able to eventually get the looks that they wanted to but most of the time it was taking a minute, a minute and a half.”
Hynes and Isaiah Butcher controlled the post for Athens as they combined for 17 rebounds, 10 of them offensive.
“It was our job to limit them to one shot every possession, and that's what we did,” Hynes said.
Last year, Athens lost in the sectional final to Vinton County in overtime after it missed free throws that could have won the game at the end of regulation.
Athens advances to the district semifinals on February 28 and will play the winner of No.1 Zane Trace and No. 8 Hillsboro at The Convo.