For the record, the word was “Look!”
That’s what Decatur coach Charlie Copp said with 53.7 seconds left Friday night at Woodward Academy, which cost him a critical technical foul in perhaps Decatur’s best and most impassioned performance all year.
Decatur, which had led much of the night, trailed only 46-44 when the tech was assessed. But by the time the debris settled and the free throws were shot, Woodward emerged with a 53-44 decision that was in no way as one-sided as the final score indicates.
Earlier in the evening Decatur’s girls got 24 points from Jordan Dillard in a 41-27 victory, which keeps the Lady Bulldogs second in Region 6-AAA, with a 7-1 record and just one game back of region leader St. Pius.
In the boys game the two teams virtually traded baskets in the first half, with Decatur holding a 24-22 edge at intermission.
This was a far cry from the Dec. 4 game in Decatur, when Woodward spent much of the evening piling up one 3-on-2 or 3-on-1 fast break after another in a 20-point victory.
On Friday Decatur not only contained Woodward’s open-floor explosiveness, at least for the first three quarters, for a long time it even appeared the better team.
Woodward regained the lead at 28-26 early in the third quarter, but the Bulldogs edged back ahead, patiently running its offense while playing unquestionably its best defensive basketball of the season.
Junior Noah Fisher nailed a straightaway three with 1:20 left in the third, then Devontae Carter slipped an interior pass to Davante Meadows with one minute left and Decatur led 37-30.
Eventually that lead became eight, 39-31 when Adarius Lucas hit a free throw with 6:40 left in the game, and it was still 41-33 at 6:30 on another basket from Meadows.
But then Decatur committed turnovers on each of its next four possessions, allowing Woodward to sprint out in transition, eventually running off 10 straight points to take a 43-41 lead with 4:25 left. Woodward even seemed to put an exclamation point on matters when 6-7 Solomon Mangham’s breakaway dunk at 2:23 made it 46-42.
But free throws by Meadows and Murad Dillard on consecutive possessions cut it to 46-44 with 1:26 left. Decatur, incidentally, couldn’t hit consecutive free throws most of this game, making only 5 of 11 in the fourth quarter and 14 of 27 in the game for an excruciating 52 percent.
On a missed Woodward shot 5-10 Tyler Axam raced down court and elected to push it 1 on 2 for the tying basket.
“Yeah, maybe I’d like to see him pull it out there [and set up the offense],” Copp said. “But I really like his confidence in trying to make a big play.”
Axam’s flip shot from the basket’s left side missed badly, but he was driven down hard by one or both Woodward defenders. When no call was made, Copp looked at the official who stood only several feet away and spread his arms.
“I said, ‘look!’ as in ‘look at my guy that just got thrown into the wall!’ " Copp said afterwards. “That was all I said. I certainly didn’t cuss. I have never cussed at a ref and I never will.”
No call was made against Woodward, but the official zapped Copp with a technical and the game was essentially decided at that moment.
Benjamin Russell made one of the two technical foul shots, Woodward was awarded the ball, fouled again, and Mangham hit both of his. In a matter of 14 seconds the score was now 49-44. Woodward would go on to get two more free throws and layup at the buzzer, adding to the deceptive final margin.
Copp remained peeved about the technical long after the game ended.
“That turned the game around,” he said, “but I don’t regret it. I was speaking up for my guy (Axam), who got put down hard which, as I see it, is part of my job.”
Although that one call and non-call was pivotal, this was overall a tightly-officiated contest from the beginning and it only figured free throws would prove the difference. It was here where Woodward was decidedly superior, making 21 of 35 in the game and 12 of 17 in the final, pulsating quarter.
That combined with fourth-quarter turnovers doomed the Bulldogs on this night.
“Our halfcourt defense was excellent,” Copp said. “If you think about it, they got very few points when they had to grind it out [in half court sets]. But you can’t guard turnovers. When you turn it over to them, they get in transition and they’re very tough to stop.”
Mangham had a game-high 18 points while Trey Williams had 14 for Woodward. Meadows had 11 and Cordele Jackson, once again in foul trouble all night, had 8.
Woodward is 13-4 and 6-1 while Decatur falls to 12-7 and 3-5. The Decatur girls are 14-5 and 7-1 while Woodward is 10-6 and 3-3.
Decatur plays Blessed Trinity at home Tuesday, the boys at 5:30 p.m. the girls at 7 p.m.