The exhilaration of a dramatic win having faded a day later, Mars Hill’s boys basketball players heard about what they did poorly from coach Mike Mitchell in what the Panthers hope wasn’t their final practice of the season Friday.
Rebounding, defense, free-throw shooting, all concerned Mitchell about Thursday’s 58-56 semifinal win against Winfield at the AHSAA Northwest.
One of three local teams that will play for a state final four berth today in Hanceville, the Panthers (27-5) will look for improvement in those areas in their Class 3A regional final against Madison Academy (20-12) at 5:20 p.m. at Wallace State’s Tom Drake Coliseum.
R.A. Hubbard girls (19-5) start the day with a 9 a.m. tilt with Lynn (30-1) in Class 1A. Defending 3A girls champion Lauderdale County (30-5) takes on Madison Academy (26-8) at 3:40 p.m.
“We worked on a lot of things,” Mitchell said of Friday’s practice. “I asked them questions about things we did or did not do (Thursday). We need to rebound better and attack basket better. We’ve got to play four solid quarters instead of just getting just getting off to a solid start and coasting. But at this point in the season, it’s not so much about making changes or great strategy. You just have to go out there and play.”
Mars Hill led by as many as 18 against Winfield and by 10 with 6 minutes left in the game, but still needed a jumper by Thomas Swinea with 1.2 seconds left to pull out a win.
As Mitchell noted, the game might not have been so close if not for the Panthers missing 9 of 18 free throws.
“It was one of those days we didn’t shoot them well,” Mitchell said. “But you don’t do a whole lot to correct that right now. Those are usually things that don’t take a lot to fix.”
He also didn’t like Winfield’s success on the boards. The Pirates totaled 21 offensive rebounds and held a 42-33 rebounding advantage overall against the Panthers, who managed five offensive rebounds.
Winfield outscored Mars Hill 16-4 on second-chance points and held a 19-3 advantage in points off turnovers. The Panthers had 15 turnovers to the Pirates’ five.
“We started off really well, but we slowed up,” guard Joe Wilson said after the semifinal win. “When we get up with a big lead, we usually slow down. We can’t do that, especially Saturday.”
Madison Academy has won six of its last eight regional final appearances.
Mars Hill will have to contend with Mustangs super freshman Joshua Langford. He had an off-shooting night in a 62-38 semifinal win against Hanceville, going 4-of-14 from the field but still scored 22 points.
“He’s a special player and they’ve got other talented players to go with him.” Mitchell said. “He looked like he didn’t have a particularly good game (against Hanceville), but he still scored 22 points and they won easy. All of those guys know their roles. They’re not just a one-man team.”
Lauderdale County’s girls also must contend with one of the state’s top players in Madison Academy’s Sierra Jones. She scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in a 46-26 semifinal win against Danville.
“She’s an outstanding point guard and a great athlete,” Tigers coach Brant Llewellyn said. “She’s going to be a hard matchup for us. We’ll have to try to contain her in our press and not let her break our press by herself.
“It will be interesting to see how that plays out. We’re going to try to do some things with our press to try to keep the ball put of her hands or give it up. We aren’t going to be able to completely shut her down, but we want to do enough to make the other players beat us.”
Madison Academy is looking to make the state final four for the fifth straight year. The Mustangs, who played in the Northeast Regional the past two years, beat Lauderdale County in 2009 and 2010 at the Northwest Regional.