It was not always pretty, but Athens (10-3) secured its tenth win of the season against Warren (8-5) with a 77-65 victory Friday night at Athens High School.
The Bulldogs had just enough fuel in the tank to defeat the Warriors in a thriller that went down to the final minutes despite what the final score may show.
Senior Brayden Markins set the tone early, scoring seven points early which contributed to a 16-7 start to the game for the Bulldogs. This run was huge for Athens as it never lost the lead despite a few close calls.
Head coach Mickey Cozart was impressed with Markins, who finished with 20 points and led all scorers on both teams.
“He doesn’t get enough credit for being a heck of a basketball player,“ Cozart said. “He does a little bit of everything for us. The guy can handle the ball, he makes big shots, he has high assists, he rebounds, he just does a lot of really good things. He puts in his time, does things the right way. I coached that kid hard, he made it through and he’s a heck of a basketball player.”
Athens extended its lead to 36-29 at halftime. It built that lead by controlling the pace, piling up several points on the fast break, and with great defensive intensity, never letting up which lead to several Warren turnovers. The Bulldogs have played with this great pace and intensity all season and it is the reason they have been so successful thus far.
The game was not perfect for the Bulldogs however as they encountered problems at the end of the third quarter. The Warriors went on a 16-7 run of their own because of several turnovers they forced on Athens and tied the game 50-50 going into the fourth.
Warren had all the momentum on its side and looked to take the lead from Athens for the first time of the half. The Bulldogs responded in a big way with a 12-0 run to start the fourth quarter which served as the dagger to Warren’s comeback hopes.
Other players who had big games for Athens were junior Brayden Whiting with 18 points and senior Isaiah Butcher, who essentially put the game away with two points and a free-throw to put Athens up 74-65 with under a minute to play.
Coach Cozart was excited about the win for his team and loved the heart they showed throughout the night.
“If you can’t get up for that game you don’t have a heart,“ Cozart said. “This team has more character, they grind, they play hard, they play together, they’re just a lot of fun to coach.”
The Bulldogs will look to win their eighth game out of nine played on the road in their next game against Marietta on Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.