ALBANY — Athens used its defense and free-throw shooting to beat rival Alexander 53-38 on Saturday in The Alley and take sole possession of first-place in the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio.
Even though Athens (13-4, 9-1) had won the first meeting of the year by 10, a road environment was bound to be a test. It gave the Bulldogs a chip on their shoulder.
“We've heard it for a week now we can't come in here and win, that's all we heard,” coach Mickey Cozart said. “I think our guys had a bit of a chip on their shoulder, and you work all season for moments like today, and we looked like a ball club today."
A minute into the fourth quarter, Athens had just a one-point lead at 32-31 when Elijah Williams had to go to the bench with four fouls.
Logan Maxfield then scored seven straight points on two layups and one of two Bulldog 3-pointers for the game. That gave the Bulldogs their largest lead and some confidence.
With three minutes left, Williams drove to lane, drawing a foul and making the layup. He completed the three-point play and a technical foul was called on Alexander (12-4, 8-2). Eli Chubb made both free throws to extend the lead to 13.
Athens made 21-of-29 free throws for the game. The final 12 points for the Bulldogs were from free throws, including a second Alexander technical foul.
Chubb only made one basket in the game but came up clutch for Athens by making all 12 of his free throws. Ten of his 14 points were in the second half after Cozart talked to him in the first half.
"I got into him in the first half,” Cozart said. “He was huge for us down the stretch of that ball game."
After scoring the first basket of the game, Maxfield didn’t score again until the fourth quarter because he had three first-half fouls.
The top two scorers for Alexander, JK Kearns and Caleb Terry, were kept to a combined 14 points.
Athens started the game in a man defense before being forced to switch to a 2-3 zone after two players picked up their third fouls in the first half. The Bulldogs forced 14 turnovers for the game and pleased Cozart with their performance.
"If we can defend like we've been defending, we can play with a lot of teams," Cozart said.
All of Athens points are were scored by starters, and four starters were in double figures. In addition to Chubb, Williams had 12, Justin Hynes had 12 and Maxfield scored 11 points.
There are still two conference games left for Athens against Meigs and Wellston, and the Bulldogs can’t lose focus.
Athens beat both of the teams by double-digits in the first meetings of the year.
With wins in both games, Athens would capture its first TVC-Ohio title since 2015.