Blount Press Row

Inside The Numbers

Or, how Alcoa fell by 16 in surprising state tournament opener

Alcoa coach Joel Kirk instructs the Tornadoes during the sectional championship game win at Grainger earlier this month.

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Murfreesboro — Statistics don’t tell the whole story, but they can get you awfully close.

Then there’s the extra 10 feet that comes with moving from a high school court to the dimensions of a major college arena.

Leading by eight with two minutes to play in the half, Alcoa slowly unraveled over the next two quarters en route to a 63-47 quarterfinal loss to Livingston Academy at the Class AA State Boys Basketball Tournament on Thursday at Middle Tennessee State University.

To fall in a state tournament game, even the opening, quarterfinal round, brings no shame. It’s crazy hard to get there in the first place. To see the Tornadoes get run by 16, though, can’t help but come with questions.

How did this happen?

Let’s start with column three — free throws/free throws attempted — of the game’s official box score.

The Tornadoes finished 3-of-4 from the stripe … for the game!

Sophomore guard Dante Harris was 2-for-2, freshman Isaiah Cox 1-of-2, both trips coming late in the second half. It’s not the officials when something like that happens. It’s you. Livingston, to its credit, right from the outset, did everything in its power to ensure it did.

The Wildcats entered with serious concerns about Harris, who, earlier this season, became the fastest player in school history to reach 1,000 career points. Alcoa’s length defensively and team speed in general presented problems as well, Livingston coach Jimmy Miller said.

The goal with Harris was “just to keep him at bay,” he said. “We knew we couldn’t stop him … we wanted him to beat us jump shooting and not getting to the rim.”

To wit, the Wildcats had little choice defensively but go with a 2-3 zone, one that made only token attempts at extending to the 3-point line. It made for some inviting looks for the Tornadoes from the perimeter in the early going. Mikael Ayl, Cox, lone senior Mekhi Carter and Ronald Jackson took due advantage and opened hot.

With five minutes to play the half, the Alcoa lead was eight.

Livingston stuck with the plan.

“We were hoping to contain them in the first half and be able to attack (in the second),” Miller said.

Seduced by the jump shot, Alcoa soon fell prey to it. All too soon, those 3s stopped falling. Jackson hit the last one for the Tornadoes with four minutes to play in the half.

For the game, Alcoa finished 4-of-16 from the arc.

With Livingston doing little to contest those shots, the Tornadoes weren’t getting to the line. Cox attempted the first free throws for Alcoa with three minutes to play in the third.

“We didn’t get to the rack; simple as that,” Carter said.

Now, that extra 10 feet.

It’s commonplace for teams reading themselves for Middle Tennessee’s Murphy Center to spend a day or two in a nearby college gym to work on shooting. The Tornadoes were no different. That’s not the greatest challenge a college arena presents, though.

The playing floor in the average high school gym measures 84 feet x 50 feet. College and professional floors measure 94 x 50. Both teams are subject to the extra steps that change brings. For teams that rely on tempo and pressing to help generate offense, as do the Tornadoes, the consequences are far greater.

That extra five feet on each end does a real number on a team’s ability to trap; there’s more room to go with the ball, more floor for the player covering the outlet pass to lock down.

Livingston took its first lead since the game’s opening basket at 34-33 with 2:37 to play in the third. The Tornadoes, at that point, had settled into a scoring drought that would extend for the next five minutes. At five minutes remaining, the Wildcat lead was 15.

It’s how Livingston put up those points, largely in transition, that stings.

As the Tornadoes extended pressure to raise the tempo — they pretty much had to at that point — the Wildcats shot layups, short jumpers and free throws. Lots of them. In an 18-4 run that broke the game open, 4-of-6 Livingston field goals were bunnies.

It helped produce a staggering difference in shooting percentage by game’s end: Livingston 58.5 percent, Alcoa 37.0.

The good news for the Tornadoes is only Carter won’t be back next season. The ones that will won’t soon forget Thursday.

“It’s going to be on my lock screen until next season tips off,” sophomore Nick Roberts said.

Lessons learned …

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