Before an enthusiastic opening-night crowd, Decatur High won both games of its double header against Arabia Mountain Monday night in the first round of the Bulldog Tipoff Classic at the Decatur High Arena.
The girls fell behind early but seized control midway through the first quarter in coasting to a 65-40 win.
The boys only wished they had it so easy. But on a night when the Bulldogs struggled at the free throw line – they missed 12 of their first 17 free throws – they converted 8 of 10 in overtime to win 73-67.
Junior Murad Dillard led Decatur with 22 points, including 13 of 15 from the foul line. Indeed, Dillard hit all six of his free throws under pressure in overtime.
Junior Davante Meadows added 16 points and a game-high 12 rebounds while senior Cordele Jackson, who played less than half the game due to foul trouble and a slight ankle injury, had 12 points and five boards.
Arabia came out playing a wildly chaotic style, sometimes pressing full court, or three quarters, and almost always trapping at every opportunity, even off the rebound. The visitors exploded to 10-2 lead, and at times the game seemed on the verge of a blowout.
They led by eight twice, and still held a seven-point edge (47-40) with 1:38 left in the third quarter, led mostly by the long-range shooting of Bakari Copeland, who finished with a game-high 30 points.
“[Arabia’s] a team that plays with great energy and they push the ball hard,” said Decatur coach Charlie Copp. “But they’re the kind of team, if you can settle down and remain patient, they’ll let you back into the game.”
Decatur’s considerable depth wore down Arabia on this night. Copp gave liberal minutes to 10 players, including junior post Noah Fisher who, with Jackson and Brett Riley in foul trouble, came off the bench to contribute 12 points and six rebounds.
Late in the third, early in the fourth quarter Decatur ran off eight straight, taking its first lead with 7:00 minutes left in the game when Riley hit a spinning lefty lay-in.
Over the next 3:20 the lead changed hands six times before Decatur pulled out to a 59-55 advantage with 1:48 left. Arabia scrapped its way back into the lead at 61-59 with 16 seconds left before a wrap-around pass from Adarius Lucas to Fisher tied it at 61 and sent this one into overtime.
Decatur only had two field goals in the extra frame – both from reserve point guard Tyler Axam – but that’s all that was needed with the Bulldogs finally knocking down their free throws.
They overcame 25 turnovers by hitting 26 of 52 from the field for 50 percent. On the foul line they went 18 for 33 overall for only 55 percent, while Arabia shot a whopping 43 free throws, making 26 (60 percent).
The girls were led by Murad’s sister, Jordan Dillard, who had 20 points in pacing a balanced attack. Kori Anderson added 14, senior Alana Johnson had 12 while Jayla Morrow and Briana Nixon had eight apiece.
“It was very pleasing to get that balance,” coach Bill Roberts said. “That means all the [scoring] burden isn’t on Jordan. She can score when she needs too, and she can distribute when she needs to distribute.
“Plus,” he added, “we have two legit point guards (Nixon and Morrow), and we can play them both at the same time if we’re seeing extra pressure.”
In tonight’s second round Decatur plays Druid Hills, the girls at 7 p.m. and the boys again at 8:30 p.m.
In Monday first games of the Classic, the Paideia girls beat Druid Hills 34-28, while the Druid Hills boys easily dispatched Paideia 66-42.