In the opening night of the Athens Academy Holiday Tournament on Thursday evening, the Lady Spartans held off East Jackson to win 42-40. The Spartans had a strong third quarter but a big first half by Elbert County helped push the Blue Devils past the Spartans 57-36.
The tournament continues for Athens Academy on Friday with the Lady Spartans tipping off at 4 p.m. and the Spartans at 5:30 p.m. Both play against Strong Rock Christian.
Gabby Mastandrea had four 3-pointers and led the Lady Spartans with 12 points against East Jackson. Jarrett Kemp had 11 points. Maddie McCleary had eight points. Greer Moseley had seven points. Reagen Hatch and Lucy Kemp both had two points.
The Lady Spartans improved to 8-4 overall.
“It is always something when you can come off a break. We have had three great practices. It’s like I have been saying all year. We are in the third year now. We are starting to see what we have been trying to develop with what we are doing. It is fun to watch,” said head coach Brian Olson. “There were some basketball plays made tonight no matter what gym you are in, it is just good basketball. That is the best part – to watch them play together.”
The Lady Spartans started the game on a 10-0 run and led 10-5 after the first quarter. They never trailed in the game. After taking a 22-19 lead at halftime, they took a 33-24 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“It is something that we are doing this season,” Olson said of the quick start. “Our girls are executing what we want right off the bat. We are able to put it on the board. They go out and execute. Whether it is a miss or a make, they are executing. When they execute, they feel confident with what they are doing regardless of whether the basketball goes in or not. That run pushed us forward.
“The thing I was most proud about was we didn’t let off. They made their run but we never once settled in. We played hard the entire time. It doesn’t matter what the score says. They are going to play hard every possession.”
East Jackson cut Athens Academy’s 41-35 lead to 41-40 with 44 seconds left in the fourth quarter. East Jackson had possession late in the game but McCleary came away with a steal with less than 10 seconds left. She was fouled and hit one of two free throws with 4.5 seconds left.
“It was good defense,” Olson said. “Coach Banks said they were going to get a steal out of the inbound. They do a heck of a job running inbound sets. It was a challenge. It was a big time possession and they came away with doing things the right way and got the steal. We are proud of them for that.”
The Lady Spartans are 7-2 in December going into Friday’s game against Strong Rock.
“I love where we are. I love where we are in a lot of different ways,” Olson said. “That doesn’t mean we are not getting better every day and every game. I couldn’t be more proud of them. We are right where we are supposed to be. We are looking forward to 2017 for sure.”
The Spartans trailed 21-4 after the first quarter and 33-6 at halftime but in the third quarter, they outscored Elbert County 23-5.
“We simply told them we were tired of watching loose balls and standing around watching,” said head coach Ed Wilson. “We said we are not going to lose the turnover and loose ball battle and we didn’t. It kicked in that we were standing around watching. We did a better job there. We rebounded better. We pushed into transition better. It was definitely a tale of two halves. I wish we could have played that way the whole way and see what we could have been, but you need games like that. It is important for us to have good teams come in here and see our growth. It’s important.”
Jack Murrah had four 3-pointers and led the Spartans with 18 points. Payton Bowles and Asa Hill both had seven points. William McLanahan had three points and Matt Moseley had one point.
“We have got to be a scrappy group,” Wilson said. “We are not an overly talented group so we have to be the scrappiest team every night. We did that for two quarters and we didn’t do it for two. What we come away with is if we don’t play tough and aggressive and physical and scrappy, we are not going to beat many people. We need to come out every time and be that way. I hope they learned that lesson.”
The Spartans are 6-4 going into Friday’s game against Strong Rock Christian.
“We want to win every game but at 6-4, we need to go out tomorrow and beat Strong Rock, who I think has got some talented kids,” Wilson said. “If we come out with the energy we did in the second half, I think we can beat them and go to 7-4 and then here comes region play right in your face on January 3 against George Walton, and then the seventh against Providence. It is go time for us.”