First-year head coach Brad Crighton joked after Tuesday night’s game that his kids may have gotten a winning a result if his kids’ talent on the gridiron was a decider against Troy Athens.
“Maybe we could have lined them up and played football today and we’d be alright,” Crighton said.
Instead, Rochester Adams fought back from a large deficit on its own floor, but lost 46-45 to the Red Hawks in the season opener for both teams.
Without the familiar faces of former coach John Hall and graduated senior stars like Spencer Littleson and Joey Ziniti, key figures in a run to the regional finals last season, Adams lacked conviction on offense early, and without the aid of senior guard Antonio Rosado, who picked up his third foul less than two minutes into the second quarter and had to watch from the bench until halftime.
The Highlanders trailed by as many as 15 in the third quarter as Rosado tried to find his outside shot — Adams (0-1) didn’t get its first and only 3-pointer until the fourth — but he heated up in the final eight minutes, scoring 10 of his game-high 14 points, two of them on a one-handed slam that jump-started his team’s furious charge to even the score.
“I think the dunk by Antonio got us going a little bit, and then we went small and the energy went to our side,” Crighton said. “I think when we started to play a little full-court [press], that’s what we like to do, but the first half we didn’t get into it.”
“We loosened up a little bit. I knew we were going to be nervous and tight. I didn’t have anybody that’s started a varsity game before, so it was going to happen, I just didn’t think it was going to take that long.”
Athens (1-0) didn’t wilt under the pressure, but it did trouble them enough to allow Adams to find a rhythm and prevent the clock from becoming too much to overcome. Senior Kyle Wood got an easy bucket to make it 44-38 with 1:53 left, and after a pass slipped through the legs on the Red Hawks’ side, Vincent Gray scored inside to trim the lead to four with a minute left.
“You saw it, those football kids were out at the end of the game, too,” said Crighton, referring to players like Gray, Wood and senior Mark Patritto. “And that’s what we need, because this team doesn’t know how to win on the basketball floor yet, and that’s what we’re trying to learn.”
Adams finally took the lead when Wood stroked a 3-pointer from the right wing to go up 45-44 with 29 seconds remaining, but Jacob Brantley answered by getting to the hoop with 15 seconds left. The Highlanders had a chance to retake the lead when Gray used a clockwise spin move at the free-throw line that drew a foul with several seconds remaining. When the front end of his 1-and-1 opportunity didn’t fall, Jake Schuler and Lukas Adgate tried for the rebound, but it eventually landed in the hands of 6-foot-5 Athens junior Kyle Sweeney, who was fouled with less than a second left, and left Adams without a quality last-ditch heave despite missing his free throws.
Crighton talked about the room for improvement in several areas, including free throws, where Adams shot 8-for-15, including 1-of-4 in the fourth quarter, as well as turnovers.
“They got into our dribbling lanes very well, and got to the basket too easy,” he said. “I thought the difference in the game was rebounds, and we’ve got to do a better job of that [too].”
Wood scored eight points, all of them coming in the fourth, and Gray added six points for Adams.
Athens was led by Brendt Stephens with 10 points, and junior forward Jarred Cunningham, who scored nine consecutive points in a first-quarter spurt.
The Highlanders will travel to Utica Eisenhower on Friday, then face Troy, Avondale, and powerhouse Clarkston before the holiday break.