By Bobby Mathews, Sports Editor
JACKSONVILLE — A tight first half turned into a nightmare of a third quarter for Leeds as the Green Wave fell to Guntersville, 63-51 in the Sweet 16 of the AHSAA 5A playoffs on Friday, February 18.
Leeds fell behind 14-11 at the end of the first quarter, but matched Guntersville shot for shot in the second, as both teams had 10 apiece going into halftime. The Wildcats held onto a slim 3-point lead, 24-21, going into the locker room, but they pushed that advantage to 31-21 within the first two minutes of the third quarter behind a three-pointer from Brody Perry and another by Brandon Fussell.
“We sat at this table two years ago, had a tough loss, and these guys (Fussell, Curt Blanchard and Cooper Davidson) were with me to get this thing going,” Guntersville coach Brett Self said. “We made a point at that time, at this table, in this arena, we were going to change this culture, we were going to get back to Guntersville basketball, we were going to get back to to where they’d been in the past.”
Leeds couldn’t get anything going in the second half, as Guntersville used Fussell and Davidson to handcuff star guard Jamal Jordan, who only had three shots in the half. Fussell hit three three-pointers in the second half to help Guntersville pull away. Fussell led all scorers with 32 points, while Davidson scored 11. No other Guntersville player was in double digits.
“They hit some shots,” Leeds coach Jeremiah Millington said. “We kind of let (Fussell) get loose a little bit, and they were doing a good job of penetrating. We were overloading the side to stop the dribble penetration, and they had a good plan. Their kids were making plays to get the ball to the weak side.”
For Leeds, the 2021-22 season capped a turnaround for a program that won only two games two seasons ago. The Green Wave finished 21-13 on the year.
“That’s a credit to these guys,” Millington said, nodding to members of his team seated with him at the press conference following the loss. “I’m not just saying that, because a coach can come in and say ‘This is how we’re going to do things, this the standard, this is the expectation,’ but if you don’t have a group of guys like this and the other seniors in the locker room right now, then it doesn’t mean anything.”
Four Green Wave players finished in double-digits, with Ford Barnes leading the way with 12 points. Josh Ruff and Tanner Chambers each scored 11, while Jordan had 10 points.
“I think they were really trying to focus on limiting our shots on the perimeter,” Chambers said. “They were trying to make us beat them inside.”
But with Fussell and the other Wildcats hitting the long ball at the other end of the court, it didn’t matter what Leeds did as Guntersville pulled away. The Wildcats will play Ramsay on Tuesday, February 22 in the next round of the state tournament.