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NTL BOYS BASKETBALL: ATHENS HOLDS OFF SAYRE'S SECOND-HALF FALLY; LISTER SCORES 1,000TH CAREER POINT (24 PHOTOS) (2023-01-19)

By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
SAYRE — Athens used a 24-3 second-quarter blitz to take an 18-point halftime lead, then held off a Sayre comeback effort in the second half in a 63-53 win here Thursday night in NTL boys basketball action.

The game was also highlighted by Athens senior Mason Lister reaching the 1,000-point career scoring mark.

“Defensively, I can’t complain about anything,” said Athens coach Jim Lister. “These kids have played great defense all season.

“We gave up three points in the second quarter, that’s the defensive effort we’re looking for, and talking about every day,” added Lister.

“I give our guys a lot of credit,” said Sayre coach Jon Ward. “We were down 18, and it’s so small feat against a team like Athens to trim it to six.

“We did just enough to be right there, but that second quarter did us in,” added Ward.

Another element in the contest, which featured big and vocal student sections for both teams, was the return of former Sayre standout Lucas Horton, who transferred to Athens prior to the school year.

“I’m proud of Luke,” said Lister. “This was not an easy scene tonight for him, but he handled it very well.

“He played very well, and was a big contributor in the win,” added Lister.

The renewal of the longtime Valley rivalry also brought the biggest crowd of the season to the Sayre gym.

“Throughout the entire game, the crowd was great,” said Ward. “Our kids really fed into it on our runs.

“At halftime we talked about it,” he noted. “We were down 18, but I told them if we can just get two or three buckets, we’ll be right back in it. We’ll have the momentum, and the crowd behind us, and that’s tough to deal with.”

Athens junior Korey Miller knocked down a 3-pointer for the game’s first points, but Sayre went on a 10-1 run, with senior Jackson Hubbard scoring six points.

After the teams exchanged points, Athens sophomore Jace Babcock knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers in a 32-second span to tie the game at 12-12.

“We talk about it all the time, it’s going to take everybody on this team to be successful,” said Lister. “When your number is called, you have to contribute.

“Jace Babcock got his number called tonight, and he contributed with two big 3-pointers that turned the game around,” added Lister.

Hubbard drained a 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining in the first quarter to give Sayre a 15-12 lead heading into the second quarter, but the Redskins would not connect from the field again for more than 8 minutes.

Athens senior Chris Mitchell scored the first six points of the second quarter, one bucket on a putback on the offensive glass, and two free throws after another offensive rebound, to give the Wildcats an 18-15 lead with 6:37 remanning in the half.

After a free throw by senior Zach Garrity pulled Sayre within two, at 18-16, the Wildcats reeled off 13 straight points to take a 31-16 lead. Sophomore Xavier Watson scored seven points in the run, including two buckets in transition, and another on an offensive rebound.

Senior Will Trump scored Sayre’s lone field goal of the stanza with 40 seconds remaining to close the gap to 31-18, but senior Carson Smith knocked down a 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining.

After Sayre missed a pair of free throws — the second an air ball, Athens in-bounded the ball under its own bucket with 4 seconds remaining, and with three quick passes found Horton open for a 12-foot jumper at the buzzer. Horton knocked it to make it 36-18 at the intermission.

“We started out phenomenally. I couldn’t have asked for a better start,” said Ward. “But, going into halftime, there were a lot of things we needed to talk about, especially from that second quarter.

“Their bigs started getting a lot more physical with us (in the second quarter), and we weren’t boxing out for that extra second, and it was killing us.

“We made the adjustment, and the boys really buckled down, and gave it right back to them in the second half,” added Ward.

While the Redskins were focused on getting back into the game, the Wildcats were focused on getting Mason Lister his 1,000th career point. Lister, who is averaging more than 20 points per game, needed four entering the game, but had just one point in the first half.

The second half didn’t start any better for the Redskins than the first half ended as Miller and Horton both scored in transition, and Lister notched a steal and lay-up for his 999th point, and a 42-18 Athens lead.

Will Trump and sophomore Zach Senese combined to score six points in a row for Sayre to close the gap to 42-24, then Lister connected on a free throw with 1:57 remaining in the third quarter for his 1,000th point.

Jim Lister was pleased to see his son hit the historic plateau.

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said the elder Lister. “I’ve been watching him play since he was a little boy. He was a gym rat… he has an older brother who is 6 years older, so when he was little-little, he was in the gym playing all the time.

“When he got his opportunity, he took off,” noted Jim Lister. “He started as a freshman, and that’s not easy to do, but that’s what it takes to score 1,000 points these days. You have to put the time and the work in.

“What’s really big for me is that he got his 500th rebound Friday night, and he’s only a couple assists away from 300,” added Lister. “To me that’s a complete player, and that’s what I’m always looking for.”

Despite Lister hitting his milestone, Sayre’s momentum continued to grow, and a 5-1 spurt to end the third quarter closed the gap to 45-31 heading into the final eight minutes.

“To be honest, we were trying to get Mason the hardest four points of his life,” said Jim Lister. “I think we were concentrating on that more in the third quarter than actually playing basketball … and Sayre took advantage and climbed back into the game.

“We wanted to get it out of the way because we have a big game against Wellsboro Saturday, and didn’t want it hanging over our heads,” added Lister.

Hubbard scored a minute into the fourth quarter, and freshman Karter Green, off a feed from sophomore Hudson Trump, scored a minute later to trim the Sayre deficit to 45-35 with 5:52 remaining in the game.

After a pair of free throws by Garrity, Hudson Trump scored in transition, off a feed from sophomore Nick Pellicano, to pull Sayre within six points, at 45-39, with 5:14 left in the game.

The Redskins held Athens scoreless for the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, and also missed several opportunities to come the gap even further with missed field-goal attempts from point-blank range.

“It was a physical game on both ends,” said Ward. “We struggled making shots with contact. It’s not something we’re accustom to because we’re so young, and our big guys are young. It really hurt us.

“Hopefully, this is a learning experience for us, and a testament to the physicality we should be playing with for the rest of the season,” added Ward.

Watson, off a feed from sophomore Kolsen Keathley, ended Athens’ scoring drought, but Pellicano answered with a 15-foot jumper to make it 47-41.

Mitchell upped the lead to nine with an old-fashioned three-point play, but Hubbard answered with a 3-pointer to make it 50-44 with 3:42 remaining.

Athens went on a 6-0 spurt over the next minute, capped by a putback by Keathley, to take a 56-44 lead with 2:40 remaining in the game.

Sayre cut the lead back to seven on three occasions in the final two minutes, but could get no closer.

“Sayre battled tonight,” said Lister. “Coach Ward is a great young coach, and he’s going to do a great job here.”

“The way the guys fought back, and never gave up coming out after halftime, it shows this team is hungry,” said Ward.

“We were right there with a team that’s near the top of the Large School (Division),” added Ward. “It was basically a six-point game when we were 20-point underdogs. I’m happy with that.”

Watson led Athens with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocked shots, while Mitchell had 13 points and five boards, Horton scored nine points, and Miller had eight points, five steals, and two assists.

Lister had six points, 11 rebounds, three assists, and one blocked shot in the win, and Babcock scored six points.

Hubbard led Sayre with 21 points, eight rebounds, and three assists, while Hudson Trump scored eight points, Pellicano added seven points and five assists, Senese scored five points, and Will Trump had five point, five rebounds, and two blocked shots, and Green added four points.

Athens, now 10-4, hosts Wellsboro Saturday evening, while Sayre (6-9) travels to Wyalusing Tuesday.

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IN PHOTO 1: Athens senior Chris Mitchell. …. PHOTOS BY DAVID ALLIGER — TRAVELING PORTRAITS.

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