The future of Athens Drive basketball was on display – on the Jaguars’ Senior Night.
Juniors Xzavier McNeill and Michael Browder, sophomore Michael Armstrong and freshman D.J. Robertson powered a more aggressive Athens team that rallied to a 62-50 victory over Holly Springs on Friday night.
The four underclassmen combined to scored 34 of the Jaguars’ 39 second-half points as Athens (8-14, 3-11 Southwest Wake Athletic Conference) turned a 36-35 third-quarter deficit into a comfortable victory.
“I just wanted to win one for my seniors, my brothers,” McNeil said. “This is the last game at home for them, and I wanted to bring home a win for them.”
Senior Joe Sykes (10 points) was thankful.
“It’s a blessing,” Sykes said.
While the win snapped a five-game losing streak for Athens, the struggles continued for Holly Springs. The Golden Hawks (5-15, 4-10) have lost six of their last seven.
“I’ve never had a season like this in my career,” Holly Springs coach Richard Young said. “I don’t know the answer.”
Ryan Blount was the answer in the first half, as the senior guard drilled six 3-pointers and had 21 points at intermission. He finished with a season-high 30 points.
“We can still win the conference tournament,” Blount said. “We always keep that goal in sight.”
A Davis Ferguson free throw put Holly Springs up 36-35 with 2:49 left in the third quarter before McNeill ignited a 20-4 run into the fourth. He made 3 of 4 free throws and then scored consecutive fastbreak buckets in the fourth – the last coming after a steal – as Athens took command.
They said it
When asked about Blount’s 21 points in the first half, Athens coach Robbie St. John said, “I thought he had that in the first quarter.” Alas, it was “only” 15.
Three to know
Ryan Blount, Holly Springs: He made 7 of 11 3-pointers and his only two-point basket, while hitting seven of 11 from the free throw line. Blount said the rims at Athens are tighter than anywhere he’s played, so he was a little surprised at his terrific shooting night.
“I’ve never had a good shooting game at Athens,” Blount said. “When I made the first couple, I was like, ‘Why stop?’”
Xzavier McNeill, Athens Drive: The Athens forward scored two points in the first half but was much more aggressive in the second, hitting three of six from the floor and getting to the line 10 times, making seven. He scored 15 points.
“The first half, I was going too fast,” McNeill said. “I had to slow down. I was making a lot of turnovers, but in the second half, I decided I had to come out and make an impact for the team, play strong defense and finish at the basket – and make the clutch free throws at the end.”
Michael Armstrong, Athens Drive: The forward had two conventional three-point plays in the third quarter when he scored eight of his 12 points.
By the numbers
4: Double-figure scorers for Athens. Robertson had 11 points and Sykes 10.
7: Seniors on Athens, meaning two didn’t get to start ion their final home game. St. John let his seniors pick who would start, and it turned into a “Rudy”-like moment as the seven wanted the others to start.
8: Number of wins for Athens this season, equaling the number the Jaguars had the previous four seasons combined.
20: Missed two-point shots for Holly Springs (4-for-24). The Hawks made 10 of 22 3-pointers.
22:36: Time between two-point baskets for the Hawks. Holly Springs didn’t make a single non-3 basket in the second or third quarters.
Blount made only one 3 in the second half, thanks to more emphasis on him by the Jaguars.
“They had somebody in my face the whole time,” Blount said. “My teammates couldn’t get going because they were all having a bad game. They normally are able to balance it out.”