BY JAKE LOURIM
TROY — The buzzer sounded. Troy Athens’ student section emptied out onto the court. Troy’s? Well, all it could do was chant, “Let’s Play Football.”
Troy fell behind in the third quarter and never took the lead back, falling to rival Athens in its season opener Friday night, 56-55.
“It’s a terrible feeling,” said Leonard, who immediately welled up with tears after the buzzer.
After Leonard hit three triples in the first half, he started the second half 0-for-2. It took him until 1:02 remaining, but his fourth long ball couldn’t have come at a better time.
Athens seemed safe with a four-point lead. All of a sudden, the deficit was just one.
Then, Athens coach Dave Scott had to get his team — which features eight sophomores and only three seniors — to maintain composure.
“The nice part was, we had the lead,” Scott said. “We can take our time, don’t panic. With that final 18 seconds, we work on that in practice all the time.”
Troy forced a backcourt violation with 28 seconds left, then called time-out with 19 to go. Senior point guard Zak Noor missed a jumper, but the possession arrow on the ensuing jump-ball went to Troy.
“If we could have shot the ball a little bit better, we could have won that ball game,” Fralick said. “If we could have gotten a shot off that out-of-bounds play at the end, we do go home with a win.”
Athens played stingy defense on the in-bounds pass, and after the officials missed a backcourt call on Troy, Leonard’s jumper from near half-court was the best the Colts could do.
“We run that play a lot,” Leonard said. He added that Troy tried to modify it by having the screener slip outside, but it never materialized.
Friday was a typical Troy-Athens game: tight, tense, with lots of key plays and momentum swings. Both schools packed the house for an evenly matched game.
The difference came in the third quarter.
Leonard came out hot to pace Troy to an early lead, but Athens pounded the ball inside and pulled ahead. After a 3-pointer with 4:24 left, the officials whistled Leonard for a technical.
On the ensuing possession, Athens hit another 3-pointer to go up by five.
Finally, the Red Hawks went inside one more time for a three-point play opportunity. They missed the free throw, but it didn’t matter. The tide had been turned.
“We got beat up a little bit on the boards tonight,” Fralick said. “That’s going to be a concern of ours throughout the year because we’re not really big, but we gave a great effort.”
Troy came out of halftime in a zone defense, but Fralick said after the game he might have done it differently given a second chance.
“We just looked a little bit confused in our zone,” Fralick said. “That concerns me a little bit. In retrospect, hindsight being 20-20, I would have stayed in a man-to-man the whole game and continued to pressure them in our man-to-man.”
Leonard came out shooting in the first half, knocking down three early triples to pace Troy to an early lead. It looked like the Colts had picked up where they left off before Athens went to the paint.
“I thought we were going to run away with it at the beginning,” Leonard said.
Mike Williams led Athens with 18 points. Jeff Koch added 12 points and John Van Hoef chipped in with 10 points for the Red Hawks.
Noor pumped in a game-high 19 points and Leonard added 12 points.
(Jake Lourim is a senior at Troy High School and a member of the S.H.P. Media Group / www.northoaklandsports.com Student Correspondence Program. He is publisher of website www.troycoltsportsupdate.com and a member of the Troy school newspaper editorial staff. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)