Wellsboro boys defeat Athens 62-49 at home
Wellsboro knew they would see a 1-2-2 zone from Athens on Friday night. The Wildcats’ length makes it pretty tough to score against, too. But on a night where the Wellsboro student section was decked out in camouflage, the Athens defense simply couldn’t find Peyton McClure.
McClure hit seven 3s on just 11 attempts as Wellsboro secured a huge NTL Large School win and handed Athens their first league loss with a score of 62-49 at the Hornets’ nest.
“We obviously knew that’s what we were going to see so I was mentally prepared for it. I was taking shots from where I knew they were going to be open and then knocked them down when I got the chance,” the junior sharpshooter said.
It seemed at times he was automatic Friday night. It didn’t matter if it was catch-and-shoot or off-the-dribble, the shots were going in, many of them that looked good as soon they left his hand.
“Peyton’s a sharp shooter and I love his mentality. I took him out in the first quarter and when he came out, I just looked him in the eye and I said ‘keep shooting.’ And he did that. Thank God he did because he can really shoot the ball.”
McClure’s hot shooting was helped along by strong early play from Liam Manning. The senor center has not produced at the level he did last year, but after a COVID layoff a week ago he’s noticeably getting back into the groove and inching closer to the form he showed last year when he averaged 17 points and nearly 10 rebounds a contest. His six first-quarter points made that Athens zone pinch ever so slightly more in the paint and gave room for McClure and others.
“Since (the layoff I’ve just felt like a different person since I got back and I feel great. And I feel like I did last year,” Manning said.
Athens, playing without a starter in Nalen Carling, got out to a quick 5-0 lead on a basket by Chris Matthews and a 3 by JJ Babcock from the top of the arc. But, that was tied for their biggest lead of the night and Wellsboro quickly chipped away as three straight buckets inside by Manning and two Cameron Brought free throws helped Wellsboro tie the game up at eight.
Brought, Wellsboro’s backup center, played extended minutes Friday with Wellsboro battling first-half foul trouble. The junior’s stat line of three points and six rebounds doesn’t jump out, but Wellsboro lost nothing underneath in his minutes against one of the tallest teams in all of District 4 in Athens.
“Cameron has really settled into his role and he thrives in it. Cameron likes the physicality of the game. Cameron likes to rebound. Cameron basically looks at his opponent and says, ‘Hey, you’re going to really have to play hard and work hard because I’m going to play pretty hard,'” Steve Adams said.
Wellsboro got their first lead of the game at 11-8 midway through the first quarter as Conner Adams knocked down a trey, and he knocked down another one after Athens scored six straight to tie it up at 14-14. McClure hit his first three with seventeen seconds remaining in the quarter to put Wellsboro up three, but a nifty post move by the crafty Troy Pritchard scored a basket and drew a foul with four seconds left. He made the ensuing foul shot and it was tied, 17-17, after the first quarter.
Five straight Athens points to start the second quarter, highlighted by baskets from Lister and Pritchard, gave them a 22-17 lead, the last time they would lead by five in the game. But, Wellsboro scored a quick five on another McClure 3 and a Callahan mid-range jumper, to tie it up again at 22. A few minutes later, another McClure 3 found nothing but net and Wellsboro went up 26-24 late in the second. A foul shot by Mitchell and a basket by Kason Keathley was the end of the scoring in the first half as Wellsboro, battling foul trouble, took the last minute and change off the clock before being unable to score at the buzzer.
The third quarter belonged to McClure and his teammates as he hit the first of his four 3-pointers in the quarter to open the scoring and give Wellsboro the lead. After an Athens basket, he made his second 3 of the quarter on the next Hornet possession gave Wellsboro a 32-29 lead, a lead they would never relinquish.
Darryn Callahan scored on a 12-footer before Babcock hit a 3 to stop the Hornet run, but McClure wasn’t done. His third 3 of the quarter, with just under 3 minutes left in the quarter, may have been his best. McClure pump-faked, got a Wildcat defender in the air, took one dribble to his left and his shot was pure, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. Just a few minutes later, his fourth 3 of the quarter with five seconds in the quarter remaining put Wellsboro up seven, their largest lead of the game up till that point.
The Wildcat zone was looking for him, but McClure seemed to slip away at just the right times in that third quarter to give him a little space to knock a shot down. A shooter of his caliber doesn’t need a lot of space.
“I knew to look for the soft spots in the zone at times and that can change, it’s not always the same on every play,” McClure said.
Both teams underwent a nearly three-minute scoring drought to open up the fourth quarter before Hayes Campbell scored for Wellsboro to put them up nine with five minutes remaining. Athens got it to seven a few times, the last time on two Babcock foul shots, but a Wellsboro team who lost a big lead in last year’s first matchup at Athens executed much better against a Wildcat defense that had to get out of their preferred zone defense and into man defense in the fourth quarter in hopes to step up the game.
Conner Adams handled the pressure marvelously for Wellsboro, scoring himself and dishing off to teammates down the stretch as his stretch of two assists and a basket in a three-possession span for Wellsboro sprung the Hornet lead all the way to thirteen with 1:20 to go, and Wellsboro was well on their way to a win.
“When it was like an eight-point game during the timeout (last year’s blown lead popped into my head) but then I told myself that’s not gonna happen. I know what to do now. And I just knew I had to attack them and we attacked them and it worked,” Adams said.
Though a frustrating end result, Athens played hard and looked great at times on the road against one of the league’s top teams, and all of their goals are still in front of them. The senior Babcock shined and reminded many why he is considered one of the league’s top players. Chris Matthews stepped in admirably for the missing Carling, and on a different night when Wellsboro was not so hot from deep, it could easily have been Athens coming out with the victory.
It’s a crucial win for Wellsboro against one of the teams expected to compete for a league title in an NTL Large School division that is as deep as it has been in quite sometime. Wellsboro still controls their own destiny for the league championship, and the win moves them to number one in the district 4 AAA standings with plenty of basketball still to be played. It’s a team playing well and showing improvement after losing shorthanded to Troy last Thursday as they march toward their goals.
“I think our defense the past two games has really stepped up and at the end of the game again, we close out a game and that’s big,” Conner Adams said. “Liam coming back from COVID, he looks like a different player than he did at the beginning, and I think that’s just helping us all.”
Tucker Brown 1 2-4 4, Mason Lister 2 1-3 5, JJ Babcock 6 4-5 18, Troy Pritchard 3 2-5 8, Kason Keathley 2 0-0 4, Chris Mitchell 4 2-4 10. Totals 18 11-21 49.
Drew Manning 0 0-0 0, Peyton McClure 7 0-0 21, Conner Adams 3 4-5 12, Liam Manning 6 0-0 12, Darryn Callahan 4 0-0 8, Hayes Campbell 2 2-2 6, Cameron Brought 0 3-4 3. Totals 22 9-11 62.
Athens 17 10 10 12 — 49
Wellsboro 17 19 18 18 — 62
3-point goals: Athens 2 (Babcock 2), Wellsboro 9 (McClure 7, Adams 2)