The buzzer sounded after Athens center Derrick Welsh made his second free throw. With 20 seconds left on the clock, the Bulldogs had tipped the scales in their favor. Athens could picture its first road win of the season, but that soon faded after Wellston (7-6, 3-3 Tri-Valley Conference) pushed the game into overtime.
It took one shot from the 3-point line to change the course of the night. The entire game had been a shootout, as both teams fought tooth-and-nail for the lead, and the overtime only enhanced the battle. However, a combination of turnovers, lost rebounds and missed shots by Athens (3-11, 2-4 TVC) resulted in a 67-62 loss at the end of extra time.
Tuesday was Athens' second-straight away game. Athens coach Mickey Cozart said playing on the opponents’ home court created an impact on the game.
“I’m motivated anytime we’re in a gym, and I don’t care if we are home or away, and I hope my players are the same way,” Cozart said. “But I’m not gonna lie: it does give some energy, especially in a tight game.”
The score remained close throughout regulation despite the Bulldogs’ defense struggling to hinder the Golden Rockets’ 3-point shooting. Athens managed to stay in the game despite its shortcomings on defense, though. As time expired in the first quarter, Wellston only had a one-point lead.
Athens’ zone defense improved late in the game and fought off Wellston’s offensive attacks. The teams continued to trade turnovers and shots, but Athens’ dominant offensive rebounding made for a 28-26 lead by halftime.
Power forward Levi Neal took charge for the Bulldogs. He recorded four 3-pointers and ended with a total of 15 points. His performance played a large role in pushing the game in favor of the Bulldogs before halftime.
Offense later played a large role during the second half. Wellston had found its stride at the 3-point line, but Athens countered in the paint. Athens largely relied on Welsh’s ability to drive to the basket. He took necessary shots and followed with keen second efforts. He registered 10 points from the post in the second half to keep the Bulldogs in the game.
Athens ultimately fell behind because of its stage fright at the free throw line. One more made attempt could have been the difference between overtime and a win.
“This game here came down to a few plays,” Cozart said. “We didn’t execute. We didn’t make foul shots. We’re either good from the line or we’re terrible from the line, and we haven’t been consistent yet, and in close games, it’s going to cost you.”
The Bulldogs were tired at the end of overtime and it showed. However, their efforts were futile. The Bulldogs still remain winless on the road.