By DARRIN SMITH
After the Lady Indians pulled off the come from behind win against a feisty Therrell team, Tribe Pride Arena was already rocking when the Indians hit the floor for warm-ups. When Fredrick Douglass High School from South Atlanta’s players hit the floor, they looked to be an impressive opponent. With multiple players in the 6’4” to 6’5” range, the undersized Indians looked to be the underdog. Despite the Indians being outsized at almost every position, the feeling in the air was electric in favor of the Indians. The Astros came in as the #4 seed in their region but had gone 9-5 in arguably the toughest region in AA basketball and looked daunting in warm-ups.
If the Indians were intimidated by the size and pedigree of the Douglass squad, they never showed it. In fact, the Indians pretty much forced their will on the visiting Astros and lead the game from tip to finish. The Indian’s dominating performance was so lopsided through the first three quarters they were up 22 points at one point. Although Douglass was completely outmatched through three quarters, they found a way to fight back in the fourth. The comeback was so stout they even managed to pull to within four points with just under four minutes to play. Despite the fourth quarter comeback, the Indians never relinquished the lead and finished strong to pull away for an 11-point win, 80-69.
The Indians proved to be ungracious hosts quickly as they jumped out to a 13-5 lead, thanks to the hot hands of Tre Flowers, who drained three three-pointers in the opening minutes to take home court advantage to a whole new level. With the rafters of Tribe Pride Arena shaking, the Indians fed off the party atmosphere on their way to an electrifying 16-7 first-quarter run. In the second, the Astros finally used their size to power their way to the net more efficiently. Despite the increased offensive output, the Astros couldn’t stop the relentless attack by the Indians or the deafening roar of the home crowd. In a back and forth second, the Indians held the slight advantage, 24-22, to send the contest to the half with the Indians up 11 at 40-29. Nuk Adams and Clayton Johnson each drained a three in the second adding to the blowout feel of the game.
After the break, the Indians offense continued to roll as they drilled the Astros from every angle. On the other end of the court, the Indians offense clamped down in the paint to force the Astros outside where they were not comfortable shooting. With a 21-12 run through the third, the Indians looked in position to run away with the win leading by 20 with just eight minutes to play. The Astros were not ready to lay down, however.
In the fourth, the Astros finally found their rhythm. They came out of the quarter break a different team. To the shock and horror of the home crowd, the Astros quickly cut the lead to just four after outscoring the Indians 20-4 in the first half of the final quarter. With the Astros roaring back into the game, the Indians needed a spark desperately if they were going to hold on. A long three by Nuk Adams provided that spark. It sent the home crowd into a frenzy as it put the Indians up seven again and brought the Tribe offense back to life. With just under four minutes to play, the three-pointer was the beginning of an Indians 15-7 run to pull away for the win 80-69 and send the home crowd into orbit.
“We knew from film that Douglass was going to be long and athletic,” Coach Jared Groce told The News after the round one win. “Our game plan was to try to keep them from using that to their advantage as much as we could. We’ve learned which strategies work best for us when we play teams like this because we’ve played a really tough summer schedule and regular season non-region schedule. This really paid off in preparing our boys for playing against a bigger, athletic team. Their size and athleticism gave us trouble at times, but our boys weren’t intimidated and found ways to overcome these challenges.”
“If we can continue to shoot the ball well, we feel really good about our chances in the coming weeks,” Coach Groce continued. “The tough thing about game-planning against our team is that you can’t simply try to take one or two guys away on offense. We have a team full of guys that are capable of scoring and making plays on offense. We had several guys step up and have great individual performances tonight. As always, the team fed off the energy provided by a packed house and we are hoping for another all-red crowd on Thursday.”
Seven Indians scored in the win with Nuk Adams leading the way with 19 points. Clayton Johnson scored 17, Devin Price and Malachi Jackson each finished with 11 as the only other players to reach double digits.
The Indians host Callaway tonight at 6 p.m. for the Sweet 16 round of the playoffs. The Indians are asking for another “Red Out” to pack the house once again.