by BRYAN EVERSON
Entering with a subpar overall record of 3-6, a home game against Rochester back on Jan. 19 turned out to be the beginning of what’s turned into an incredible past month for Athens.
The Red Hawks will hope that Thursday night’s win on the Falcons’ floor supplies them with the momentum to avenge their record’s only blemish since then next week.
After squeaking out a 41-39 win in the first meeting between the two sides, Athens doubled up Rochester 58-29, a result that was never in doubt, and one that improved the visitors to 10-7 overall and 6-3 in the OAA Blue Division.
“Our defense has been stellar,” Athens coach Stacie Klumpp said. “Just the intensity level that we’ve brought up the second half of the season…I’ve had coaches come up to me after games and tell me they didn’t know if we we’re playing zone or man [defense], and that’s like music to my ears.
“The girls have really taken to [playing zone] and just get out there and play hard. Our defense is our best offense right now, so that old cliché is true for us.”
With the Red Hawks boasting a 29-15 lead at halftime, Rochester conjured up some success in the second quarter by breaking the troublesome press and getting some high-percentage shots off in the paint, but Morgan Robinson splashed a 3-pointer just seconds into the second half, and Athens only widened the gap from there out. The Falcons (3-12) suffered by committing over a dozen turnovers in the third quarter, which ended with a three by Athens guard Deana Johnson (10 points) from several feet beyond the line that increased the lead to 27.
“Athens’ consistency [was the difference],” Rochester coach Adam Sheldon said. “They know what to do, where to move the ball. We talked about at halftime reversing the basketball against the press, and came out and did the exact opposite. It’s something we’ve talked about all year long, and I don’t think it’s a lack of effort, but maybe a lack of experience.”
Freshman point guard Izzy Crum capped off a 10-0 run to start the game for Athens with a steal and a layup, but the Red Hawks ability to build a 17-point lead with five minutes left in the second quarter allowed for some breathing room even when Rochester found some success breaking the press temporarily before halftime.
Klumpp was able to give her entire team some run with a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter, and nine Athens players got involved in the scoring, led by 15 points from junior Maddie Crum, who also recorded a double-double with 11 boards.
The Falcons, already missing starting junior guard Jenna Norgrove to a stress fracture injury, were led by six points from Alyssa Miller, but lost her midway through the game due to what appeared to be a knee injury that required her to be helped off the floor.
The only loss for the Red Hawks in their last eight games came against rivals Troy on Jan. 24, a 47-35 defeat on the road. Athens will hope to avenge that loss on Tuesday at home. In the first meeting, the Colts were led by 16 points from Megan Lenihan and 10 from Danika Murray.
A win for the Colts would help continue a turnaround in the right direction. Following the win over Athens, they had lost six-straight games until a 56-29 win Thursday over Oak Park. With that triumph, powered by a team-high 17 points from Emily Olson, Troy enters its game against the Red Hawks sitting at 6-12 overall and 4-5 in the division.