RALEIGH — Both Athens Drive and Heritage found themselves near the bottom of their conferences last season. But if Friday night’s game between the two was any indication, their oppenents better take them seriously. The two teams played a tough and physical game, with Athens pulling out a 59-57 home win over visiting Heritage.
Athens (2-0) got off to a quick start, taking a 13-4 lead in the first quarter. Heritage used its defense to get back into the game, slowing down Athens’ plans to run at every opportunity. Athens coach Dayna Jordan said Heritage’s defense was a big reason why their lead was cut to just 26-25 heading into halftime.
“Heritage did a real good job of slowing our game down,” Jordan said. “Our philosophy is to get the ball up and down the court as quickly as possible and they really took us out of that.”
It was Heritage’s offense that caught fire in the third quarter by finding its touch from the outside. Heritage coach Nicole Allen said her team‘s comeback was keyed by their ability to hit outside shots and make stops.
“We were knocking down our shots, especially at the beginning of the second half,” she said. “And we played smart defense.”
The game remained close the rest of the way, with both teams alternating leads during the fourth quarter. A key moment came with about two minutes remaining in the game. With her team trailing 55-53, Heritage’s Sarah Stanton hit a 3-pointer. The basket was waved off, however, after the officials thought Allen had called a timeout. She protested, and the timeout was eventually wiped off the books, but so was Stanton’s basket.
“I said calm down, and apparently the ref thought I said time out. There’s really not much you can do from that point,” Allen said. “That was costly for us.”
Heritage (0-2) would have other chances to win, but missed shots and turnovers ultimately proved to be the Huskies’ undoing.
They also had no answer for Athens’ Grace Hunter. Hunter scored 12 of her game-high 35 points in the fourth quarter. She attacked the basket at will, scoring around the basket at almost every possible angle. Jordan said she wasn’t surprised at Hunter’s aggressive approach to the game.
“I think she goes into everything with a desire not to lose,” Jordan said. “She felt like she needed to take the team up on her shoulders a little bit and she did a great job.
Joy Hunter added 12 points for Athens.
Friday’s game was the just the second for Jordan as Athens head coach after a ten year stint at Broughton that included a state championship. While it is early in her tenture, Jordan says she likes what she has seen so far.
“They’ve been responding really well,” she said. “We’re learning every day and I just hope to continue that.”