Defense delivers for Decatur

By Staff
Mike Self, FCT Sports Editor
RUSSELLVILLE – The Russellville Golden Tigers are a potent offensive basketball team, but they met their match on the defensive end of the floor Tuesday night against visiting Decatur.
The fourth-ranked Red Raiders held No. 8 Russellville to 36 percent shooting and allowed only one three-point field goal, pulling away for a 69-47 win in Class 5A, Area 16 action.
Rico Pickett, Jarodiaus Willingham and Mark Mason each had 17 points for Decatur, but it was the Red Raiders' lock-down defense that made the difference.
The Golden Tigers (9-2, 0-1 area) led 14-10 after one quarter but managed just 16 points over the next two quarters combined.
"Their defense really took its toll on us tonight," RHS coach Michael Smith said. "We had 14 turnovers, and we didn't get very many good looks at all-especially from three-point range."
Decatur clamped down on Russellville's perimeter shooters and completely took away the Golden Tigers' most dangerous weapon. Smith's team made 16 threes in a game earlier this season and 18 in another, but on Tuesday night they finished just 1-for-10 from behind the arc against the Red Raiders' physical, aggressive brand of defense.
"I didn't really think they could play us man-to-man the whole game and be effective," Smith said. "We saw a pretty tough defense last week against Baldwin County, but Decatur's defense was really good. We couldn't get anything going from outside. We got a few good looks in the paint, but not many."
Russellville relies on big offensive production from its junior guards, Cory Trapp and Siran Winston, but neither made a basket in the first half. Trapp finished with just five points, and Winston had four.
Meanwhile, Decatur got rolling offensively after a slow start. The 6-foot-3 Willingham took over down low in the second quarter, scoring 11 points as the Raiders out-scored Russellville 21-8 to turn a four-point deficit into a 31-22 halftime lead.
Pickett, a 6-foot-3 guard who has committed to Alabama, was content for most of the night to set up his teammates, but he made three key plays midway through the second half to help seal the deal.
First, Pickett blocked a layup attempt by Winston in the closing seconds of the third quarter and raced coast-to-coast for a three-point play to push Decatur's lead to 46-30.
Then, in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, Pickett soared in from the left side for a one-handed dunk to push the lead to 20 with 7:29 remaining.
Finally, Pickett put the finishing touches on a solid all-around night with an alley-oop pass to Willingham, whose thunderous jam made it 52-30.
Smith said that he was impressed with Pickett's unselfishness.
"A lot of attention gets paid to him, but he does a very good job of distributing the ball to his teammates," Smith said. "He's really athletic, too. I thought we did a pretty good job of keeping him under control. He got loose a couple of times, but he never really had that huge quarter that you know he's capable of."
In stark contrast to the Golden Tigers, Decatur got plenty of quality shots. The Red Raiders finished the night at 56 percent from the floor.
"We didn't look too good defensively, and we didn't rebound very well," Smith said. "Decatur really started crashing the boards as the game went along, and they got some easy baskets."
Russellville led 16-12 early in the second quarter before a three-point play by Willingham jumpstarted Decatur. G Redus drained a jumper to put the Raiders on top 17-16 with 5:30 left in the first half, and they never trailed again.
Nate Dunstan led Russellville with 10 points, and Jermaine Bates added nine. Terence Smith had seven, and Andy Pounders added six.
The Golden Tigers will return to action on Friday when they host Muscle Shoals in another key Class 5A, Area 16 battle.

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