The one consistent factor throughout the season for Athens was defense, forcing other teams into bad shots.
The defense was what won Athens the Tri-Valley Conference-Ohio title and the sectional championship. It is the first time since 2015 that the Bulldogs have won both in the same year.
Athens (17-7, 11-1 TVC-Ohio) held high-scoring Zane Trace to 48 points in the district semifinal, but the offense only scored 28 points.
Having seven seniors on the team who knew the system was crucial for Athens, allowing 45 points a game and making key stops in the final seconds of multiple games, including in overtime of the 43-40 win over Logan Elm in the sectional final.
The Bulldogs’ zone defense was able to prevent opponents from getting the shots they wanted and force them to take long range 3-pointers.
During a last-second loss to Vinton County on Jan. 18, Athens began using a man defense, and it had success against some teams. It was mostly brought out to shut down the top scorer of teams, and it did that on occasion.
In some games, Athens coach Mickey Cozart switched the defense mid-game if opponents were starting to score consistently. Having the senior-laden team, the players were able to do that smoothly and not have any communication problems.
When Athens was able to cause a turnover, it used the speed of Elijah Williams and Logan Maxfield to create fast breaks. Both of them were capable of making layups through contact.
The Bulldogs were best when they were able to force turnovers, leading to fast breaks, and in most of their losses, they struggled to force turnovers preventing those fast breaks opportunities.
A strong defense was necessary for the Bulldogs. They struggled on offense, scoring only 53 points per game and had 11 games that were decided by fewer than 10 points.
Williams, the point guard, was key for the Athens offense. He has the speed to beat his defender off the dribble and break full-court pressure. With him on the court, he is able to create open shots for the others and cause problems for defenses.
He dealt with injuries throughout the season, which caused him to miss four games. Athens had to play with make-shift point guards when he wasn’t on the floor.
Eli Chubb took most of the point guard responsibilities, along with junior Brayden Markins. They were able to find success, but they didn’t have the same ability as Williams to break down defenses with their dribbling.
Coming into the season, Cozart expected Athens to be a good 3-point shooting team, but it rarely happened. Outside of a few games when the Bulldogs caught fire, they struggled to make more than one a game.
In the district semifinal, Athens went 1-of-18 from 3-pointers and scored 28 points, the lowest point total of the season.
Athens had the size advantage over most teams it played this year due to the combination of 6-foot-4 Isaiah Butcher and 6-foot-3 Justin Hynes.
They are different types of players, but the duo worked well for Athens. They both were good rebounders and defenders. Hynes does most of his scoring around the basket by picking up offensive rebounds, while Butcher can extend his range to 3-pointers.
Markins emerged as the sixth man for Athens this season by stepping in when Williams was out with injuries. When Williams returned, he remained the first player off the bench due to his ability to pressure ball handlers.
Cozart was able to give some experience to sophomore Brayden Whiting this year without forcing him into a leading role. Whiting showed flashes of his offensive ability while also adjusting to varsity basketball.