One of the biggest strengths for Athens this year has been the consistent play of the defense — and the Bulldogs may have just put in their best performance this season.
In Athens’ 69-23 victory over Wellston on Tuesday, Athens once again showed why its identity as a team starts on the defensive side.
This was the eighth game this season in which the Bulldogs (16-4, 11-1 Tri-Valley Conference-Ohio) held their opponents to 40 points or fewer and the second time they’ve done it against the Golden Rockets. During their current seven-game winning streak, the Bulldogs have held teams to under 40 points three times.
At this point in the season, coach Mickey Cozart expects a high level of play from the team on the defensive side.
“It’s what we do,” he said. “When we’re doing it right, we’re pretty good at it.”
The major defensive high point in this game for Athens came in the second quarter, when Wellston (3-17, 2-9 TVC-Ohio) could not score until 20 seconds left.
Going into the third quarter, the Bulldogs kept the suffocating defensive effort up, only allowing the Golden Rockets to score one basket. In the second and third quarters, Athens only gave up a combined five points.
To look at the defensive play from a different angle, Athens scored 21 points in the first quarter. Wellston finished the game with 23 points. The Golden Rockets only scored 11 at the half and only notched 13 points heading into the fourth quarter.
Junior center Isaiah Butcher spoke highly of his teammates’ ability to defend and their impact on the team, both with perimeter defense and in the paint.
“We have Logan Maxfield, and he’s probably the best defender in our league,” he said. “And with Justin Hynes in the post, he can guard (the paint) well.”
One of the reasons Athens defenders played so well was their ability to get into the passing lanes and intercept the pass or poke it away. Eli Chubb led the team with four steals, and Elijah Williams also contributed with three steals of his own. Maxfield and Butcher also entered the stat sheet with one steal of their own, respectively.
Athens uses its speed and athleticism to create havoc on the defensive end. With this agility, it made it very easy for the team to convert these forced turnovers into easy fast break points on the other side of the court.
“We’re big and we’re long,” Cozart said. “When we’re aggressive, there’s just not a lot of territory out there for people to maneuver.”