Late run lifts Tuscaloosa Academy over the Patriots in AISA State Championship

Published 10:34 pm Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Tuscaloosa Academy knights made a late push and knocked off the Pike Liberal Arts Patriots 63-47 in the AISA Class 3A State Championship on Saturday night in Montgomery.

The Patriots had their sites on winning their first ever state championship on Friday night and held an early fourth quarter lead, but a late run sealed the deal for the Knights

“We knew it was going to be a game of runs,” head coach Allen Ponder said. “That team was picked to win at the start of the year and I’m proud of my kids for how we hung in there.”

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The Patriots entered the fourth quarter trailing 37-35. Drew Nelson knocked down a 3-point shot to give the Patriots their final lead of the game at 38-37.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Patriots found themselves down by one point at 44-43. From that point on the Knights outscored the Patriots 19-4 and had a 12-0 run along the way.

“We knocked down a lot of tough shots during the game,” Ponder said. “We knew if there was an opportunity where we didn’t knock down a big shot they were going to have an opportunity to go on a run.”

The Patriots and Knights traded the lead throughout the first three and a half quarters. Neither team led by double digits until midway through the fourth quarter. After entering the second quarter trailing by one, Javon Christian, Nelson and the Patriots were able to even the score at 27 entering the halftime break. Christian and Nelson combined to score 21 of the Patriots’ 25 first half points.

The Knights led throughout the third quarter, but the Patriots were able to stay within shouting distance having never trailed by more than eight points.

An 8-0 Patriot run allowed Pike Lib to even the score before entering the fourth quarter trailing by two.

Austin Cross and Nelson both finished with a team-high 14 points, while Christian finished with 12.

Despite the loss, Ponder and the Patriots took another step forward this season. After making it to the Elite 8 two years ago, the Patriots made their first trip to the Final Four last season. Ponder believes Saturday’s game will be a learning experience for next year’s team.

“We are making strides every single year,” Ponder said. “We are taking steps every single year. We have two seniors on this team. We have a lot of guys returning that will be eager and hungry to get back here again.”

The Patriots will say goodbye to two seniors in Nick O’Brien and Jaquavian Johnson.

“They are huge,” Ponder said. “They are the group of kids, along with a few from last year, that started this culture. We can contribute all of it to the kids that came through. They worked extremely hard and did exactly what we asked them to do and you can see the result.”