Hoops battles: Tigers fall to Bulldogs 53-34

LOGAN – Basketball fans around southeastern Ohio have been anticipating a Warren-Athens sectional final matchup since the moment the tournament seeds were revealed.

Apparently, nobody told Marietta.

The Tigers put themselves in great position to pull off an upset Tuesday night against the Bulldogs, but Ibi Watson and Joe Burrow stepped up and led their team to a 25-9 fourth quarter run to pull away and win 53-34 at Logan High’s Jim Myers Gymnasium.

“I was tremendously proud of the effort again tonight,” said MHS coach Mark Duckworth.

“I thought our game plan was solid. Athens has a lot of weapons. They stepped and hit several 3s in the fourth quarter, in that tight stretch.”

The loss eliminates Marietta (9-13) from postseason play, although the Tigers do have one more regular season contest remaining – a makeup game Saturday against Frontier for “Senior Night.”

Athens (17-3), with the win, now looks to avenge an overtime loss against Warren last season in the regional tournament.

After scoring just three first quarter points, Marietta began to rally in the second and third quarters, trailing just 28-25 going into the final period.

Then Watson, who scored a game-high 22 points, and Burrow, who added 15 markers, put Athens on their backs, combining for 17 of the team’s 25 fourth quarter points to dash Marietta’s upset bid.

“Hey, (it was) a 3, 4, 5-point game for a long, long time,” Duckworth said. “Our guys did everything I asked them to do. So in my mind, they’re successful.

“We knew Ibi Watson and Joey Burrow were (Athens’) two leading scorers and their go-to guys. They run a lot of sets for them to get looks. I thought we took them out of a lot of the things they wanted to do the first two or three quarters of that ballgame.”

Down 10-1 with 20 second left in the opening quarter, Connor Beavers dished to a wide open Corey Hill down low for a layup to make it 10-3.

After Burrow traded buckets with Marietta’s Zach LaBarre, Ryan Leuhrman laid one in to put the Bulldogs up 14-5.

Braden Riley answered with back-to-back buckets and later, after a free throw by Burrow, Beavers again assisted Hill, this time on a 3-pointer, to cut Athens’ lead to three. Zacchia Saltzman would put in a field goal to make the halftime score 17-12.

After Riley opened the second half with a bucket, Watson scored four straight points for the Bulldogs to make it 21-14. Hill then scored four straight points of his own for Marietta before a basket by LaBarre brought Marietta within three, 23-20. Watson then hit a potentially momentum killing 3-ball, but Marietta’s Jonathan Wood was quick to respond with a basket-and-one to keep the deficit at three. Leuhrman and Wood then traded deuces to make the score 28-25 with eight minutes to play.

Burrow, who had been sitting out with four fouls, checked in to start the fourth quarter and hit two big-time 3-pointers to stretch Athens’ lead to seven. Later, Saltzman hit a trey to make it a 10-point game, 41-31, before consecutive baskets by Burrow and a pair of freebies by Watson finally put Marietta away for good.

The two teams were dead even on the boards as both totaled 23, with Wood grabbing a game-best nine caroms. Marietta turned the ball over 12 times while Athens had just four.

Marietta had plenty of chances to take the lead and even pull away, but went just 14-for-52 (27 percent) from the floor, including 3-of-18 (16.6 percent) from the 3-point line.

“We have to get better at attacking zone defenses,” Duckworth said. “We’ve gotta get in the gym and we’ve gotta shoot more so we have more weapons from the perimeter for next season, and we will.”

To add to the offensive woes, the Tigers made just 3-of-9 foul shots compared to 11-of-13 for Athens. The Bulldogs were 19-for-43 (44 percent) shooting.

Riley and Hill each had nine points to lead MHS, while Wood added seven and LaBarre chipped in with six.

After going up and down for most of the regular season, Marietta had recently started performing more consistently. The Tigers surprised a lot of people when they competed well against Zanesville twice in the same week, using a slow-tempo style of play to keep the score as low as possible.The Tigers implemented the strategy Tuesday against Athens, but with the same result.

“I wanted this win. Bad,” Duckworth said.

“I wanted it bad for our seniors. I wanted it bad for our city and our community.”

Duckworth talked about what it will take for Marietta to get over the hump and come out on top in games like this in the future. “We’re not that far away, as you can see.

“Our kids have to work hard in the offseason. They have to work hard in the weight room. You see how physical the game is. Our kids have got to put the time in to get to the highest level.”