Last year, Justin Hynes had an opportunity to win the sectional championship for Athens in the final seconds. He just needed to make a free throw to win the game for the Bulldogs.
The game went to overtime, and Vinton County won 69-60, ending Athens’ season.
Hynes spent the last year taking as many free throws as he could to prevent that from happening again. Athens coach Mickey Cozart claims that nobody in the state has taken as many free throws as Hynes since that game.
When the Bulldogs have breaks at practice, Hynes will shoot free throws, and then after practice, he will shoot more.
All those shots paid off Friday.
Hynes drew a foul with 16.6 seconds left, needing to make one of the free throws to tie the game and a second make would likely win the game. He made the first one. The second missed and the game went into overtime.
“He knew he let his team down (last year) and he wasn't going to do that again, and that's what true leaders do,” Cozart said.
Athens went on to win 43-40. Hynes scored one of two field goals in the overtime period.
Hynes has been a leader for Athens all season, and he’s one of its most consistent players. The Bulldogs won their first Tri-Valley Conference-Ohio title since 2015.
He has been a consistent scorer for the Bulldogs and one of the best rebounders in the league, but recently, he’s stepped up even more.
Hynes is averaging almost 10 points per game over the last seven games as Athens clinched the title and a sectional championship.
"That’s definitely something I pride myself on is being able to always contribute at least a little bit every game," Hynes said.
Cozart can depend on Hynes to rarely rest every game and play about 29 minutes a game. With him always on the court, it brings a consistency to the team and many opportunities for Hynes to score.
Hynes is one of the best post players in the area, and along with 6-foot-4 Isaiah Butcher, Athens has two post players that can take games over. The duo is hard to handle for opponents.
The combination of Hynes and Butcher in the post leads to most teams using help defenders and double-teams to stop them from scoring, which opens up outside shots for the Athens 3-point shooters.
Hynes is more of an old-school center in that he scores most of his points around the basket and is a great rebounder. He rarely shoots a 3-pointer, but he made a crucial one at the end of the third quarter in Athens 53-38 win over Alexander earlier this season.
Butcher causes problems for defense with his 3-point shooting ability and strength in the post to go along with his passing ability. He finds small openings for Hynes to get shots.
Both of them are strong rebounders, too. They combined for 19 in the win over Logan Elm, including four offensive rebounds in the final minute when Hynes made the tying free throw.
When Athens plays a zone defense, Hynes can either play in the low in a 3-2 zone or further out on the wing. He has the ability to stay in front of smaller opponents who try to use their speed to get by him.
The clutch free throw Friday helped Athens reach one of its goals of making it back to The Convo, but now, it’s on to the next goal of making it to the district final.
"We'll celebrate this for about a night,” Hynes said. “We'll get to work on Monday, watch a bunch of film this weekend, and we'll be ready.”
After making only four of nine free throws in the win over Logan Elm, Hynes will be back at practice shooting free throws.
With the season coming to a close, the next game Athens loses will be the last game Cozart coaches Hynes, who he’s coached since seventh grade.
“I'm going to miss Justin Hynes,” Cozart said. “You can't have enough Justin Hynes’ on your ball club."