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No. 2 Madison County edges No. 4 Hokes Bluff 56-50


From left, Hokes Bluff's Philip Ward, Madison County's Marquise Irvin, Hokes Bluff's Isaac Haas and Madison County's Tyrell Clary battle for a rebound during Thursday's Northeast Regional game at Pete Mathews Coliseum on the campus of Jacksonville State. (Photo by Marc Golden | Gadsden Times)


 

JACKSONVILLE — The Hokes Bluff Eagles nearly pulled off a huge comeback but just ran out of time as they fell to No. 2 Madison County 56-50 in the boys Class 4A Northeast Regional high school basketball semifinals Thursday night.

The fourth-ranked Eagles (27-6) were led by senior Isaac Haas, who nearly had a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 9 blocks, in his final game for Hokes Bluff. Junior guard Brack Shields also added 12 points, four assists and four steals for the Eagles.

Madison County (23-5) was led by Tyrell Clary with 13 points, two assists and two steals.

Hokes Bluff kept it close throughout the first quarter, trailing by only a basket leading into the second, but were outscored 37-23 in the next two periods, including trailing by as many as 20 points at one point in the third quarter.

The Eagles struggled tremendously against the aggressive and athletic defense of Madison County. The Tigers’ full-court forced 29 turnovers, including 18 in the first half, allowing them to take 24 more shots throughout the game than Hokes Bluff. Eagles’ coach Greg Watkins said his team prepared the best it could for the press in practice but once the game began, the Tigers’ athleticism gave them trouble.

“The biggest thing is adjusting to the speed of the game,” Watkins said. “Against athletic teams like that, it’s hard to simulate that in practice.”

By the fourth quarter, however, the Tigers turned off the press and trapped less and Hokes Bluff took advantage of that opportunity, going on a 14-2 run over a seven-minute span. Tiger coach Bubba Webster said he slowed down his defensive attack because of fouls that were getting called and was concerned about sending the Eagles to the line.

 

Webster said he hoped that also would slow down the pace of the game and help the Tigers contain Haas better, who had caught fire by that point.

Haas scored 16 of his 22 points and blocked eight of his nine shots in the second half. In the second quarter, Haas was in a bit of foul trouble and his absence, combined with the turnovers, allowed Madison County to score basket after basket in the paint, many of which were floaters and runners that never would have cleared the 6-foot-2 Haas.

By the fourth quarter, he patrolled the lane so well that if there was an open path to the basket and the only thing between the rim and a Tiger was Haas, Madison County players thought better and looked for an open shot. In the third quarter, it worked as the Tigers were able to hit their outside shots, but in the fourth, the roles were reversed and they began giving the ball to Hokes Bluff. By the end of the Eagles fourth-quarter run, they only trailed by 4. Unfortunately for them, there were only 16 seconds left and when they committed the intentional foul, Brandon Gurley came to the line and made both free throws, ending the comeback bid. Haas, a Purdue signee, said the loss was heartbreaking but was proud of where the Hokes Bluff is now that his playing days are finished and believes bright days lie ahead for the Eagles.

“This is team has done great things to build that program,” Haas said. “People will start looking at us now as a threat.”

The tough loss also was Watkins final game as a coach. He was thankful that even with his new promotion to administrator, he was able to finish out the year with this group of players. Watkins spent a total of 20 years as the Eagles head coach.

“Being from Hokes Bluff, I’m so proud for our community,” Watkins said. “I’ll be here as a fan next year.”