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J.J. HICKS: Struggles from field hurt Etowah hopes


Etowah coach James Graves calls out to his players during their Class 5A regional semifinal game against Ramsay at Pete Mathews Coliseum in Jacksonville on Wednesday. (Photo by Eric T. Wright | Gadsden Times)


 

COMMENTARY

JACKSONVILLE — At least James Graves knew there was nothing more his team could have done.

After the Etowah coach and his team lost to Class 5A, No. 8 Ramsay 75-42 in the semifinals of the boys Northeast Regional on Wednesday, Graves explained how it went down as simply as possible.

“We picked a fine time to shoot the basketball bad,” he said. “We got the same shots we normally get, we just didn’t knock them down today.”

That was all it took for a team that had been 22-3 to see its season come to a grinding, devastating halt.

The key statistic from the Blue Devils’ season-ending loss: shooting percentage.

Etowah managed to sink just 13 of 56 field goals in the game, which came out to just 23 percent. Even worse, the Blue Devils connected on only 2 of 24 shots from beyond the 3-point line.

On the other side, the Rams needed only 43 shot attempts to make 22 field goals — that’s 51 percent.

“When they’re making shots and you’re not, it’s easy for the game to get away from you,” Graves said. “We normally shoot the ball a lot better than that.”

But for awhile Wednesday, a different result still was within the Blue Devils’ reach.

Despite making just 7 of 23 field goals in the first half, Etowah not only was competitive, it was in the lead for a good chunk of the first 16 minutes.

The energy and athleticism of the Blue Devils, along with a full-court press on defense, helped force 12 Ramsay turnovers in the first two quarters, which led to some easy points. Etowah also managed to show enough aggressiveness on the offensive end to reach the free-throw line 13 times. Nine of those shots went in.

By contrast, the Blue Devils hit only 5 of 12 free-throw tries in the second half.

The inability to consistently get anything going on offense started to hurt Etowah late in the second quarter, allowing Ramsay to grab a 33-25 lead at the break.

Still, even when the Rams came out hot in the third quarter and went up 39-27, Graves felt comfortable with his team’s position.

“When we got down 12, I called a timeout because the way we play, we get points in spurts,” Graves said. “Down 10 or 12 in the third quarter, I’m OK with that, we’re right where we want to be. We had a 3-pointer rim out, that would have cut it (the deficit). Then we stopped them, but we botched a layup. 

“The shots just didn’t go in. We make some of those shots down the stretch, it’s a totally different ballgame.”

Once the opposition got hot and the Blue Devils couldn’t keep up, it was only a matter of time until the careers of the 11 seniors under Graves’ tutelage came to an end.

Though an upperclassman-laden team, this was the first appearance in Jacksonville for these Etowah players. Despite playing in front of raucous, supportive fans in Attalla for the area tournament and sub-regional round (and an equally energetic group in the stands at JSU), the regional tourney often can be a bit much for many first-timers to handle. The atmosphere of a college arena, the large crowd, the stakes, it has proven to be an eye-opener for many a teenager.

That appeared to be the case, at least to a degree, for the Blue Devils.

“It was both,” said senior Jordan Powell of the atmosphere and Ramsay’s defense contributing to his team’s shooting woes.

Junior Jalen Williams held nothing back, the product of brutal honesty, disappointment or maybe some of each.

“It was the atmosphere,” he said. “It wasn’t anything Ramsay did.”

Afterward, Graves seemed surprisingly upbeat despite the loss. Not because his team had been defeated, but because he got to coach a team that he found practically irreplaceable — a group of youngsters Powell referred to as a “family.” 

Also, Graves said his team never slacked off no matter how many points they were down, that they continued to play hard and showed all the people in Pete Mathews Coliseum what they were made of.

How could any coach not feel pride in that?