Mustangs awaken in time

NORCROSS -- The Meadowcreek boys nearly got a rude awakening Friday in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.

The Mustangs played less-than-inspired basketball for three quarters, but woke up in time to survive a scare from Etowah with a 55-50 overtime victory at Meadowcreek.

"We caught ourselves looking ahead to Norcross or Centennial, but I told the kids you can't underestimate anybody in the playoffs," said Meadowcreek coach Billy Davis. "We were sleepwalking tonight, but all that matters in the playoffs is to survive and advance and we were able to do that. I think we'll be more focused the next time we play."

Meadowcreek (24-5) appeared to have turned back the scare when John Ruff knocked down a pair of free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining to give the Mustangs a three-point lead. But Etowah (16-13) answered by rushing the ball downcourt and passing it back to Kyle Schmidt, who curled around the defense and swished a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game.

"Meadowcreek is a very good ball club, but we were good enough," said Etowah coach Don Hurlburt. "We had a chance to win tonight and we beat ourselves."

The teams exchanged the lead in OT until Meadowcreek finally got the break it needed. Lavon Hooks missed a pair of free throws, but got his own rebound on the second miss and scored on the putback.

"Not boxing out on that play killed us," Hurlburt said.

On the way downcourt, the Eagles had the ball stripped away by Meadowcreek's Ruff. Etowah never scored again.

"That was the big turning point right there," Davis said.

And Meadowcreek quieted any talk of another comeback by making its free throws. Aaron Robinson hit a pair with 16.8 seconds left to give the Mustangs a four-point lead and Shaquille Morris tacked on another with 6.5 seconds left.

"We did what we had to do tonight," Davis said. "In the fourth quarter they decided they wanted to play and when they decide they want to play, they can compete with anybody."

Etowah spent the first half trying to get its offense in gear. The Eagles tried to work the ball until they found an open player inside, but the strategy often failed because of Meadowcreek's quickness and effectiveness in sliding back into place or deflecting the ball away.

Still, the Eagles stayed even with the Mustangs for most of the first quarter, with the score tied at 7-7. From that point Meadowcreek had more luck pushing the ball upcourt. A 3-pointer by Antwan Woodson gave the Mustangs a 16-11 lead and provided a bit of separation. But the Region 8-AAAAA runners-up could never break free.

Etowah trailed by as many as seven points (29-22) early in the third quarter before going on a 12-2 run that gave the Eagles a 34-31. Suddenly engaged, Meadowcreek roared back on three straight baskets by Robinson to get within one, then take the lead on a fast-break basket by Glass.

"Our game plan was to make them play our style," Hurlburt said. "We wanted to slow down their offense and make them be patient. We just turned it over way too many times."

Etowah was led by Derrico Peck and Alex Garay, who each scored 13 points. Sean Muller had a game-high 12 rebounds and two blocked shots.

Meadowcreek had three players with 10 points: Aaron Robinson, Terrance Glass and Morris.