By: Chris Manning | | February 19, 2022 | Photo courtesy David Alliger


SAYRE — In a game no fan wanted to end, Athens and Troy needed extra time to decide who was going to walk out with the NTL Showdown Trophy. And, in the end, the Wildcats got a Nalen Carling free throw with 49.9 seconds remaining to take a 1-point lead, and made it stick defensively to beat the Trojans, 68-67, in boys’ basketball action Saturday.

“It feels awesome,” Athens coach Jim Lister remarked. “Honestly, it feels terrific.”

The stars certainly showed up, as Wildcat JJ Babcock finished with 29 points, eight of them coming in overtime, while Troy’s Ty Barrett lit up with 33, including seven 3-pointers.

“First, I want to say congratulations to the Troy Trojans,” Lister said. “Coach Renzi has a phenomenal program, and Ty Barrett is an unbelievable player. Mason Imbt, he’s just s man-child in there, and they’re so good, but, you know what, I think we’re a match-up challenge for them. Our length and our athleticism makes it a little bit tough for them.”

The Wildcats made their living in the paint, as they hit 31 2-point field goals, with no threes, as they worked to get the ball inside. That was in sharp contrast to Troy, who had as many threes (12) as two point field goals (12).

“I always say we’re a complete team,” remarked Lister. “I’ve got five or six guys out there all the time that can score, and score a lot, and I think that helps.

“And, if I go back in time, and I look at our AAU season, we battled them in AAU, but we were able to beat them in AAU. We battled over summer league, and we were able to beat them in summer league,” he noted. “We beat them at our place the first time we played them, and tonight was a phenomenal game. They got us last Saturday in Troy, and, I’m not taking anything away from them whatsoever, nothing, but we had to play back-to-back games, and I just didn’t think our legs were 100percent, and it showed a little bit.

“But tonight, we got rest, and I think our intensity was there in the beginning of the game, which was good,” added Lister. “And you need to do that against a team as good as Troy.”

Twice the Wildcats got out to decent leads, 8-2 in the first quarter, and 50-42 early in the fourth, but both times the Trojans came back. The two teams would trade leads down the stretch of the fourth, with Troy missing two game-winning shots in regulation. The two teams traded leads through the first half of the fourth quarter, until Athens got back-to-back buckets to go up three points. A Troy 3-pointer tied, but Carling got to the line, made the second of two freebies, and that was enough to carry it home.

Babcock had eight boards, seven assists, three blocks, and two steals to go with his 29 points.

“I keep saying it, he’s a complete player,” said Lister. “We want him to have the ball. He’s got to touch it, and, if he touches it, usually good things happen.”

Carling had 15 points, five boards, three assists, and two steals.

Mason Lister finished with eight points, four boards, five assists, and two steals, and Tucker Brown added eight points, and two steals.

Troy Pritchard had four points, two boards, and two steals, with Kolsen Keathley getting two points and three rebounds, and Christ Mitchell adding two points.

“When they went zone, we’re good at finding mismatches,” said Babcock. “When I touch the ball up top, I just see over everybody, and I see guys like Nails or Troy for easy buckets.”

After Barrett, Imbt was the second-leading scorer for Troy with 13 points, while Justice Chimics finished with nine. Lance Heasley and Ethan VanNoy had six points each.

“What a comeback by the Troy Trojans,” Lister remarked. “They made it a game, which you knew they would. An unbelievable shooting night they had.”

The Wildcats jumped out to an 8-2 lead thanks to three lay-ups and a jumper — Babcock had one of each — but after a Troy time-out, Barrett hit a three ball to cut it to 8-5.

Carling responded with another lay-up, but Chimics answered that with a 3-ball to make it 10-8. The two teams would trade buckets, followed by a VanNoy 3-ball to give Troy their first lead, 13-12, but a Brown jumper put Athens up 14-13 at the first horn.

The Wildcats opened the second quarter with lay-ups from Carling and Babcock, but Troy came back with two Imbt freebies, followed by a Heasley putback.

That’s when Athens went on a 12-0 run, fueled by six points from Lister. They showed off their quick passing as they assisted on three of the buckets, including a Babcock-to-Lister-to-Brown that got their fans going.

A Barrett lay-up off a Chimics assist stopped the run. Carling answered with a short jumper, but Troy finished the half on a 4-0 spurt to cut it to 32-23 at the half.

Babcock opened the third with a put-back, but Barrett got Troy rolling with back to back 3-balls to make it 34-29.

A 4-0 Athens spurt pushed it to 38-29, but Troy rallied again, as Imbt thad a putback, followed by another Barrett 3-pointer to make it 38-34.

Carling would score a lay-up at the other end, but the Trojans would cut it to 40-37 behind a 3-for-4 effort from the foul line.

After another Carling jumper, the two teams traded lay-ups, and Chimics hit another 3-pointer to close the gap to 44-42. Mitchell would get the final bucket of the quarter to give the Wildcats a 46-42 lead with one quarter left.

Athens would start the fourth with a 4-0 spurt, but an Imbt putback cut it to 50-44.

Then, Barrett put on one of the best shooting displays many people will see in a high school game. He would make three 3-pointers in a row, the second from nearly 25 feet, and the third off balance in transition, to put his team up 53-50 with 5:55 left in the game.

Babcock would end the run with a lay-up, but a Heasley bucket off a VanNoy pass helped Troy keep a 3-point lead.

Athens would chip away, though, as Babcock would hit two free throws and a lay-up to give them a 56-55 advantage with 3:50 left in the game.

Imbt would put Troy back up 57-56 off a putback, but Babcock came back with a runner at the other end with just under three minute to go.

The two teams would trade misses, followed by another Imbt putback to give the Trojans a 59-58 lead with 1:30 left to play.

Babcock would get fouled with just over a minute, making 1 of 2, to tie things up at 59-all.

At the other end, Troy would run some clock, then shoot with under 30 seconds to go. It missed, but Chimics hauled in the rebound.

Athens had some fouls to give, so, after a Trojan timeout, they began to foul, but one was by Mason Lister, which would knock him out of the game. Troy’s shot at the buzzer was no good, and the game went to overtime.

In the extra period, Babcock would get in the lane for a runner, but VanNoy came back with a 3-pointer. Babcock answered with a jump hook, with Barrett making two freebies at the other end.

Then came the big play of the extra period, as Babcock drove the lane. Imbt stood in to take a charge, there was contact, and the call came out a block, with the Wildcat senior making the lay-up.

He missed the free throw, but put Athens up 65-64 with 2:32 left to play.

Troy would miss at the 2:04 mark, Athens would miss with 1:57 left to play, with Troy then getting another miss after that.

Athens made good on their next possession, as Babcock had a putback with 1:20 left to go up three points.

“We were short-handed a little bit, but, you know, I just had to put it in my head that I had to take over the game,” said Babcock.

However, Troy didn’t go away, as Chimics hit his third 3-pointer of the game to knot things up at 67-all with 1:07 to play.

At the other end, the Athens shot was off, but Carling got the offensive board and was fouled. He missed the first, but made the second, putting the Wildcats up 68-67 with 49.9 seconds to play.

The Trojans would run some clock, then call a timeout with 21 seconds to play to set something up. Athens would get a near steal with 3.5 seconds to play, but the ball rolled out-of-bounds.

In the final seconds, Barrett was able to get a decent look, but the shot was just short.

“I’m so thrilled with the kids, and so happy for them,” said Lister. “I’m so happy for our program.”

Athens will now try to bottle this energy as they host a district game next week.

“It makes us feel like we can beat anybody,” said Babcock. “So we’re going to ride this momentum for sure.”