Leader Blues

Saturday, February 23, 2008

SPORTS >>Owls move into state, beat Atkins

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Because Dane Lottner put the Owls on his back, Abundant Life got the monkey off its back.

The 6-4 junior guard scored Abundant Life’s finals 16 points to send the Owls to their first-ever state tournament with a dramatic 74-72 win over Atkins in the first round of the Region 2 regionals on Thursday at the Riverview Activity Center.

“It’s called getting the monkey off your back,” said AL head coach Tim Ballard, whose Owls had come up a game short of the state tournament each of the past five years. “The last five times we had a chance to go to state, we had to play a top three team. This time, we got a team that wasn’t ranked in the top 10, but they sure played like it tonight.”

Lottner finished with 34 points — 19 in the final period. He hit all six of his shots in the fourth quarter, including a pair of three-pointers. He also made 5-of-8 free throws in that stretch. His two free throws with 13 seconds left gave the Owls a 71-68 lead. He hit 1-of-2 free throws with 2.3 seconds remaining to set the final margin.

Atkins got off a desperation 70-footer as the buzzer sounded.

“Dane just bailed me out big time,” Ballard said. “Because we didn’t have an answer for [Atkins] tonight. The funny thing is, I told them I only wanted layups and free throws [down the stretch], and every shot Dane made was out away from the basket. It’s as good of a performance as I’ve ever seen in 16 years of coaching. It was so clutch.”

After trailing throughout much of the game — the result of some torrid shooting by Atkins’ D.J. Brinkley and some strong post play by Stephen Fletcher and Terence Bobo — the Owls turned to Colby Woolverton in the third period.

The senior point guard took over for the Owls at the midway point of the third quarter, scoring seven consecutive points over a 1:25 span to pull the Owls even at 43.

Lottner and Terrell Ghant hit threes and Woolverton added yet another drive and layup to send the Owls into the final period with a 51-49 lead. The drama — and Lottner — were just getting started.

“I’ve been riding those two horses all the way to the state tournament,” Ballard said of Woolverton and Lottner. “They just compliment each other so well. When one gets tired, the other takes over for a while. It’s a good duo to have.”

Atkins never led in the final period, and trailed by seven points on four different occasions. Each time, Ballard said he thought that the Owls might have locked it up.

“I kept thinking as soon as it got to seven, it was over,” said Ballard, whose 31-7 Owls took on third-ranked Conway St. Joe’s last night after Leader deadlines. “Because every time I get up like that on somebody, I know Colby can shoot free throws the rest of the time. But strange things happened tonight.”

One of those was Woolverton’s uncharacteristic miscue with 1:53 left, when he dribbled it off his leg out of bounds. That came in the midst of a 7-0 Atkins run that knotted the game at 66 with 1:46 left.

It took Lottner all of 17 seconds to put the Owls back on top with an eight-foot pull-up in the lane. Though Bobo tied the game with 55 seconds left, Lottner delivered another dagger — this one proved to be the mortal blow — when he hit a three-pointer from the top of the circle. The Owls never trailed again.

But it was far from over. Bobo hit a pair of free throws to narrow the gap to 71-70 with 35 seconds left. With 13 seconds left, the Red Devils sent Lottner to the line. He knocked them both down to push the AL lead to 73-70.

Atkins got three shots inside on its next trip down, with Stephen Fletcher finally drawing a foul with 3.6 seconds left. Fletcher hit them both.

Woolverton threw a court-length pass to a streaking Lottner who was fouled with 2.3 seconds left. He made 1-of-2 for the final margin.

“We told our guys, if [Atkins] has all five guys up, we’re going long,” Ballard said of the final inbounds play. “If they have four up, we’ll get the ball to Colby and let him shoot free throws. We didn’t have any timeouts left, so I told them, ‘It’s got go to one of those two, fellas.”

Lottner’s performance, which included seven rebounds, was so spectacular it nearly eclipsed Woolverton’s own 21-point, 8-assist output. Dustin Keathley didn’t score, but had six rebounds and five assists. Nelson Boren added six points and four assists.

Atkins was led by Brinkley’s 27 and Bobo’s 21. Atkins knocked down 28-of-54 from the floor, including 7-of-13 threes.
The Owls were equally torrid, making 29-of-54 overall and 8-of-18 from three-point range.