By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
CLAY — Gardendale turned up the defensive pressure to start the second half, which led to a big run that propelled the Rockets to 62-49 victory Wednesday over Clay-Chalkville in the championship game of the Cougars' own Thanksgiving boys basketball tournament.
Allen Williams, named the tournament MVP, scored 20 points for the night. He was 4-for-7 from 3-point territory and 6-of-7 at the free throw line. He led a trio of Rocket players in double figures, with Juan Jackson scoring 18 points (3-of-7 on treys) and Austin Hicks adding 13.
After the teams played fairly evenly in the first half, with the Cougars pulling out to a modest lead right before intermission. That lead evaporated quickly after the break, as Gardendale scored the first 15 points of the third quarter. The stepped-up pressure caused Clay-Chalkville coach Daniel Foy to call two time-outs in quick succession to try to stop the bleeding.
The Cougars' own full-court press late in the game briefly flustered the Rockets, but by the time the visitors had already built a 17-point lead, and had plenty of margin for error.
It was a turnaround from Gardendale's 63-47 loss to the Cougars just six days beforehand.
"It was probably a combination of knowing the opponent very well — we've played them six times in the past two years — and being motivated from the effort we put out there last week," Rocket coach Ryan Griffin said. "We wanted to play better, we wanted to out out the effort, and with our guys that's the big thing — being motivated to play on the defensive end."
Kenneth Cotton led Clay with 14 points; he was a perfect 9-of-9 from the foul line. Edward Leggett added 12 points, with a pair of 3-pointers.
Gardendale had a cold shooting touch in the first half, but was red hot in the second as they went 14-of-22 (64 percent) in the second.. They were also 17-of-23 (74 percent) from the free throw line.
The Rockets (4-1) return to action next Tuesday when they travel to Cullman. They then go to Pinson Valley on Friday, Dec. 6.