E.A. Sports Today

No shelter from storm

Etowah turns up the heat in the second half, pulls away from White Plains in Class 4A Northeast Regional

Josh Wheeler (11) was hot for White Plains early and helped the Wildcats get an early lead. On the cover, Etowah’s Josh Graham reaches to block a shot by Wheeler in the second half. (Photos by Greg Warren)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – Chris Randall practices his White Plains basketball team regularly against six and seven players at a time to prepare it for whatever pressure it may face during the season, but there was nothing that could prepare the Wildcats for the storm they faced in the second half of their regional semifinal game Saturday.

The Wildcats led by nine at halftime, but Etowah turned up the intensity coming out of the break, forced a bushelful of turnovers that it converted into points and overtook them 58-50 in the Class 4A Northeast Regionals at Jacksonville State.

The Blue Devils (22-7) now play defending state champion Jacksonville Wednesday for the region’s spot in the Final Four.

White Plains controlled the tempo early and led 27-18 at halftime despite committing 12 turnovers, many of them unforced. It was a portense of things to come.

Knowing they had to step up the pace on both ends if they wanted to change their fortunes, the Blue Devils turned up their press and in the third quarter forced eight more turnovers, off which they scored 11 points. For the game, they created 23 turnovers (15 off steals) and scored 25 points off them.

“The third quarter was the difference; they just had another gear,” Randall said. “We always tell the guys the first four minutes of the third quarter most of time is going to determine the outcome of the game … and it did.

“The press hadn’t hurt us since early in the year – we’ve done a really good job against it – but they just had a different level of intensity there in the third and it was impressive.”

Blue Devils coach James Graves called it “creating just a little bit of chaos” and they certainly did that.

Josh Graham was particularly active for the Blue Devils. In the 20-2 run that got them the lead, the senior guard had two baskets off teammates’ steals, made a steal that Jalein Walker turned into a bucket and then he tied the game with a layup. Later, he turned a another of his steals into a three-point play that gave his team a 41-33 lead.

Graham finished the game with 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and six steals.

“I had a chip on my shoulder going to halftime,” Graham said. “I told the team as we were walking back to the locker room we had been down like this before, this was nothing new, we can still come back and win this game.

“I feel like they look at me as a leader, so I feel like if I step up and start doing what I’m supposed to be doing they’ll step up and do what they need to be doing, too. It just all worked out good.”

ETOWAH (22-7) – Josh Graham 8-19 3-8 20, Omareon Finch 1-3 1-2 3, Jalein Walker 7-19 6-10 20, Jameson Scissum 3-8 2-6 10, Andrew Pierce 2-7 1-2 5, Lamont Richardson 0-0 0-0 0, Caden Argo 0-1 0-0 0, Devante Shannon 0-3 0-0 0, Marquan Mahone 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-60 13-28 58.
WHITE PLAINS (17-8) – Dylan Barksdale 1-5 0-0 3, Z.J. Rosario 2-6 2-2 7, Josh Wheeler 6-8 2-4 17, Luke Bussey 4-14 0-0 10, Carter Johnson 2-4 0-0 4, Paul Laube 3-7 2-2 8, Coleman Ray 0-0 1-2 1, Cam Almon 0-0 0-0 0, Daniel Williams 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-44 7-10 50.

Etowah992713 –58
White Plains14131112 – 50

3-point goals: Etowah 3-21 (Graham 1-6, Finch 0-2, Walker 0-7, Scissum 2-4, Shannon 0-2); White Plains 7-16 (Barksdale 1-2, Rosario 1-2, Wheeler 3-3, Bussey 2-8, Laube 0-1). Rebounds: Etowah 35 (Graham 8, Walker 8); White Plains 42 (Bussey 9, Johnson 9). Fouled out: Wheeler. Total fouls: Etowah 13, White Plains 20. Officials: Burks, Horn, Putnam.

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