by BRYAN EVERSON
It wasn’t quite “The Godfather Part II,” but the sequel to the first meeting between Troy’s rival schools delivered in many ways.
Athens, this time on its home floor, again kept it close similar to its four-point loss in early February, but the Colts again left with a leg up over the Red Hawks, scoring a 60-51 victory Tuesday night.
“It was a typical rivalry game,” Troy coach Gary Fralick said. “It was somewhat of an ugly game that we were able to survive, but that’s a strong and well coached team that we played tonight.”
It wasn’t without a little bit of drama in the final minute, either. Despite what looked to be a missed traveling call, Troy left the door open and its lead remained at six after a missed pair of free throws with 37 seconds left. On the ensuing possession for Athens, senior forward Prahalad Bhagavatula went strong to the hole and got an and-1 opportunity to drop, but the 50-50 call went the way of the Colts and instead was ruled a charging foul.
What could’ve been a three-point game with 26 seconds left instead turned into a 10-point difference as an Athens player and head coach Dave Scott were assessed technical fouls in the aftermath, a potential seven-point swing.
“I don’t know [if it was a charge],” Scott said. “It was a tough call. Troy plays hard, and in this type of game, it’s exciting. You’ve got to keep yourself under control and make plays.”
“I thought we were in it for the entire game, we just had a hard time making that big play, whether it was a stop when we needed it or a big bucket.”
Fralick simply chalked the ending up to the nature of a rivalry game.
“You tell your kids that you can’t ref, you can’t trash talk, you’ve gotta just play,” he said. “Dave runs a class program here and is doing all the right things. It was just a minor flare-up.”
Whereas Isaiah Smith played the Robin to Jason Dietz’s Batman in the first meeting, it was Danny Sully who stepped up as this time as a second major scoring option for the Colts (15-4). Without getting on the score sheet in the first quarter, Sully quickly piled up the points, scoring nine before halftime and finishing alongside Dietz with 19 each.
“We ran some plays for him and he had some mismatches down low, and that helped,” Fralick said. “Also, he hit the offensive glass pretty hard. He’s hard to keep off the glass when he goes to it, because he’s a pretty big body.”
The Red Hawks were aided by a complete team effort despite battling foul trouble throughout the contest. Nine players scored for Athens, led by junior guard Taylor McCaskill, who began to find success in aggression as the game wore on. McCaskill scored 12 of his team high 17 points after the break and also had eight attempts from the free-throw line.
“We let McCaskill get too many dribble-drives without as much help as we needed, and he’s so quick to the basket,” Fralick said. “He’s a tremendous dribble-driver and a pretty good shooter, so you’ve got to respect that part of his game also, and we weren’t getting help quick enough. It was the same thing he did to us [at home], so that was a little frustrating, but we were getting some easy baskets ourselves.”
On a night where both team’s seniors were commemorated, both Scott and Fralick honored the tradition and gave each’s seniors nearly five minutes of floor time before swapping in the usual underclassmen starters over midway through the first quarter.
“I thought our seniors came in and gave us great minutes,” Scott said. “Hopefully, it’s a memory they have forever. It would’ve been nice if we had gotten the win for them, but this type of environment is what high school sports is about.”
“They’re great kids and going to do great things. Hopefully, being part of part of our program has helped them develop into young men of quality, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s important to us.”
Athens, who finish the regular season 8-12, will open up the playoffs on Monday against Royal Oak in a district that the Red Hawks will host. Troy also opens Monday at Bloomfield Hills against Brother Rice.
In girls’ basketball playoff action, both Troy teams saw their seasons come to an end. The Colts (7-15) suffered a 58- 30 loss to Birmingham Marian, while Athens dropped its playoff opener Wednesday night, falling to defending MHSAA Class A Champions Warren Cousino, 69-30.