January 16, 2021 Bob Baker

ATHENS – Going into Saturday’s NEB-Athens boys basketball contest both coaches were worried how much their respective teams might have left in the gas tank.

After all, just the night before, Northeast Bradford coach Paul Burgert had watched his Panther team erase an early 21-point deficit before eventually bowing to the undefeated Canton.

Athens coach Jim Lister cheered on his young Wildcat team as it overcame a fourth-quarter, 16-point deficit to take a hard-fought, one-point victory over Wellsboro.

Lister’s team had no letdown here as the Wildcats trailed just once – on the game’s opening basket – and scored a 65-56 win over the visiting Panthers.

J.J. Babcock’s 17 points led three Athens players in double-figures as the Wildcats improve to 3-2 on the year.

“I’ve been waiting for them to come out of their shell,” said Lister afterward. “Our last three games, we started slow. I’m happy we came right out at the opening tip.”

The Wildcats slowly built themselves a 21-14 advantage at the end of the opening eight minutes.

Employing some half-court trapping defense in the second quarter, the Wildcats were able to stretch their lead to 10 points – 34-24 – with a Babcock 3-pointer at the top of the circle.

Tucker Brown, off a steal of a Northeast inbounds pass, upped the gap to 12 before Lucas Crown answered for the Panthers. Another Babcock basket, with just four seconds remaining in the half, produced a 38-26 advantage at the break.

Babcock put together a seven of 11 outing from the floor as he produced a solid game from both the outside and taking the basketball to the bucket. He also would pull down nine rebounds.

“We didn’t handle their press well,” noted Burgert after watching his team commit 15 turnovers on the evening – 10 in the opening half. “That really took us out of our rhythm.”

Burgert added his Panther team is still learning how to play together.

“Lucas (Crown) is our one player returning with significant time from last year. We’re a new bunch of guys.”

Consecutive buckets from Mason Lister, Babcock and Shayne Reid, to open the third stanza, put the Athens lead at 44-26, while the Panthers went cold for the first 2:50.

Ethan Finch and Dan Seeley countered with back-to-back buckets for Northeast, but the Wildcats were calmly taking control.

The two teams exchanged baskets until Nalen Carling’s follow-up bucket and free throw, plus Lister’s basket gave Athens a 20-point lead. Athens would take a 57-39 advantage into the final eight minutes.

There, the Panthers found some leftover energy as they attempted to claw their way back into the game. Twice they got the gap down to 12 points – the first on consecutive baskets by Crown and Nick Beers. However, the second time occurred too late in the game on another Seeley basket at 63-51.

Griffin Stein netted an Athens basket prior to consecutive Northeast buckets to close out the final seconds.

“I was more worried about what we would have left after Friday’s game with Canton,” added Burgert. “One thing about us is, you never have to worry about a lack of effort.”

Crown set the pace with 18 points for the Panthers, off to a 0-3 start on the season. Beers, in his first season with Northeast after North Rome elected not to have a basketball season, chipped in with 12 points and nine rebounds. Seeley finished with eight points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Finch totaled seven points.

Lister added 14 points and six rebounds for Athens. Brown, on a 6 of 7 outing from the field, netted 12 points, while Reid finished with eight. Carling set the pace with a team-high nine rebounds. Stein totaled seven points.

Athens now gets ready for a Monday night showdown with Valley rival Sayre on the Redskins’ home court.

“It’s Athens-Sayre,” noted Lister in taking a quick peak toward Monday. “Both teams will be ready to go.”

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January 15, 2021 Tim Birney

ATHENS — Athens wiped out a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit in less than three minutes, then needed a pair of 3-pointers by sophomore Mason Lister in the final 47 seconds to pull off a stunning, 54-53, come-from-behind win over Wellsboro here Friday night in NTL boys basketball action.

Through the first three-plus quarters, the Wildcats shot less than 30 percent from the field, and were out-rebounded by a smaller Wellsboro team, but junior Tucker Brown’s 3-pointer triggered a 17-1 blitz that pulled Athens even with just over 2 minutes to play.

“I’ve been waiting for these kids to get going for three games,” said Athens coach Jim Lister. “I know what they can do, I’ve seen it for years. They just needed to turn it up a notch, and to get excited.

“All of a sudden, I think Tucker Brown’s 3 sparked them,” he noted. “They started playing defense, they started attacking … it was a whole different team in the last five minutes.

“I’m proud of them, they didn’t quit,” added Lister. “We did a lot of things wrong tonight, but hopefully we can use this as a stepping stone to get going, and win some basketball games.”

Wellsboro jumped out to an early 8-2 lead, but Lister and junior J.J. Babcock scored fast-break buckets, and senior Griffin Stein canned a 3-pointer with 2 seconds remaining in the first quarter to give the Wildcats a 9-8 advantage.

Athens took a 13-12 lead on a pair of free throws with 4:36 remaining in the first half, but Wellsboro scored five straight points to take a 17-13 lead.

The team exchanged buckets, with Wellsboro’s Isaac Keane scoring with 5 seconds remaining to give the Green Hornets a 21-17 lead at the half.

Peyton McClure buried a 3-pointer on Wellsboro’s first possession of the second half, and Darryn Callahan added a bucket with 7:03 remaining in the third quarter to up the Hornets’ advantage to 26-17.

Lister scored a bucket in transition with 5:48 remaining, and Babcock followed with two fast-break buckets in the next 59 seconds to cut the deficit to 26-23. It could have been closer, but the Wildcats went 0-for-5 from the free-throw line in that stretch.

Keane stopped the Athens run with a 3-pointer with 4:10 left in the third quarter to make it 29-23.

Athens cut the deficit to 31-27 with 2:49 left on a fast-break bucket by Babcock, but Liam Manning scored the final four points of the quarter to give the Green Hornets a 35-27 lead heading into the final eight minutes.

McClure drained another 3-pointer on Wellsboro’s first possession of the fourth quarter to stretch the Wellsboro lead to 38-27.

After Lister knocked down a runner in the lane to cut the deficit to 38-29 with 6:55 left in the fourth quarter, Wellsboro used a 9-2 spurt — capped by an old-fashioned three-point play Callahan — to take a 47-31 lead with 5:07 remaining in the contest.

The Wildcats made just 14 of 51 shots to this point, but made 8 of 10 down the stretch, including four 3-pointers. They were also 3 of 10 from the free-throw line for the game..

“We can’t continue to miss easy lay-ups, and miss free throws,” said Lister. “It’s stuff we work on every single day, and talk about all the time.

“I’ve told you, it’s a simple formula: play defense, make lay-ups, make fouls shots, and win basketball games,” noted Lister. “We have to do that.”

With 4:51 remaining in the contest, Brown buried a 3-pointer, and junior Nalen Carling followed with an old-fashioned three-point play to cut the deficit to 47-37.

After a free throw by Connor Adams pushed the Wellsboro lead back to 11 points,  Carling knocked down a short jumper, and junior Tucker Brown drove through traffic for a lay-up to trim the deficit to 48-41 with 3:39 left in the game.

Carling kept it going with a long 3-pointer from behind the top of the key to cut the Wellsboro lead to 48-44 with 3:02 remaining.

On Wellsboro’s next trip down the court, Babcock blocked a shot, and then got out in front of the fast break for an uncontested lay-up. Moments later, Lister picked up a steal, and found junior Shayne Reid for a lay-up in transition to tie the game at 48-48 with 2:08 left in the game.

After an Athens timeout, Keane scored on a short jumper to put Wellsboro up 50-48 with 1:42 remaining. Moments later, Adams registered a steal and was fouled on his way to the bucket. He made 1 of 2 to up the Green Hornet lead to 51-48 with 59 seconds left.

With 47 seconds remaining, Lister buried a 3-pointer from deep in the corner to tie the game. After a defensive stop by the Wildcats, Lister drained another 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to give them a 54-51 lead.

Wellsboro’s game-tying 3-pointer rimmed out, and Manning’s tip-in at the buzzer provided the final margin.

Babcock led Athens with 16 points and three rebounds, while Lister had 14 points, nine rebonds, three steals, and two blocked shots, and Carling added 10 points, six rebounds, and three assists.

Brown had five points, four assists, and three steals in the win, while Stein had five points, four boards, and one blocked shot, and Reid had four points and three assists.

Keane scored 15 points and grabbed 11 boards, and Manning tallied 14 points and hauled down 13 rebounds to lead Wellsboro, while McClure had 13 points, and Callahan added 11 points.

Athens, now 2-2, returns to action Saturday when it hosts NEB. The JV game tips at 4 p.m.

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January 15, 2021 Tim Birney

ATHENS — Athens dropped a pair of decisions this week, including a double-overtime heartbreaker Friday night, in NTL junior varsity boys basketball action.

Wellsboro 36, Athens 33, 2 OTs

Wellsboro took the early lead in the second overtime, and Caden Smith made 5 off 6 free throws down the stretch to help the junior Green Hornets to a 36-33 win Friday night.

Carson Smith scored five points and Lucas Kraft added four points in the first half to help Athens to a 15-11 halftime lead.

Wellsboro outscored Athens, 13-9, in the second half, including a 4-2 edge in the third quarter, to force extra play.

Smith and Chris Mitchell led Athens with 10 points apiece, while Nick Guiles-Vought added seven, and Kraft chipped in with four.

Troy 56, Athens 28
At Troy, the host junior Trojans used a 14-4 second-quarter run to take control in a 56-28 win Wednesday night.

The first quarter was even with Carson Smith and Korey Miller knocking down 3-pointers to pace Athens in a 10-10 deadlock.

Troy took over and outscored Athens, 28-7, in the middle two quarters to take a 38-17 lead into the final eight minutes.

Smith led Athens with eight points, while Miller added seven points, and Davin Spencer chipped in with four points.

Athens returns to action Monday at Athens.

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January 13, 2021 Chris Manning

TROY — In a physical, foul-plagued game Athens came up short against Troy, dropping a 70-53 decision, in NTL Large School boys’ basketball action Wednesday.

The high profile match-up of the top two teams in the division a year ago was the Trojan season opener.

The Wildcats struggled the first three quarters to get anything going offensively as they had just 20 points at the half and 34 after three quarters.

However, their defense kept them in striking distance, down 47-34 with the final frame to go.

In the fourth, Athens’ offense got going, but so did Troy’s, and, after cutting it to a 9-point deficit with 5 minutes to go, the Wildcats hit a cold patch as they watched the Trojans pull away.

Athens was able to get Troy into the double-bonus in both halves, but also allowed Troy to nab several offensive rebounds and putbacks after they had gotten defensive stops.

Nalen Carling had the hot hand for the Wildcats, shooting 67 percent from the field and finishing with 15 points to go with six boards. J.J. Babcock added 14 points, four boards and three steals.

Troy Pritchard had six points and 11 boards, and Tucker Brown, Shayne Reid and Mason Lister had five points each. Carson Smith rounded out the scoring with three points.

Ethan VanNoy led Troy with 20 points while Athens kept Ty Barrett from going off, as he had just 17.

Jake Deitrick had 11 points, nine boards, three steals and two blocks, while Mason Imbt and Nick Williams had four points apiece. Imbt added four boards as Williams handed out four assists.

Devin Selleck finished with five points and six boards, while Owen Williams scored two. Morgan Madigan had one point to go with six rebounds.

Athens came out with a box-and-1 on Barrett, but Troy still took a 7-0 lead in the first three minutes, punctuated with a Barrett jumper.

Athens got on the scoreboard just before the halfway point of the first quarter on a Pritchard lay-up. A Deitrick lay-up off an assist from Imbt made it 9-2 Troy, then Babcock answered with a lay-up of his own.

After a Troy free throw, the two teams traded buckets as the Trojans went up 12-6. A pair of Reid freebies cut it to 12-8, but Barrett and VanNoy hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 18-8 Trojans. Carling had a putback at the end of the first quarter to cut it to 18-10.

The Wildcats came out strong in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to four points as Carling hit a jumper, followed by two free throws from Mason Lister.

A VanNoy driving lay-up extended the lead back to 20-14, but Carling hit two free throws to cut it to four points again.

An Imbt putback followed by another VanNoy 3-pointer extended the Troy lead to 25-16.

Athens, though, took advantage of Troy’s foul trouble as Pritchard went 2-for-2 from the line, followed by a Babcock lay-up, to cut it to 25-20.

VanNoy had the final answer of the half, hitting a driving lay-up for a 27-20 halftime lead.

Troy continued to extend the lead early in the third quarter as they went on a 8-2 run, punctuated by a Williams 3-pointer, to take a 35-22 lead.

Athens responded in kind, going on a 6-0 push themselves to make it 35-28 with five minutes left in the quarter.

That’s when Troy began to live at the line as they got the Wildcats in foul trouble. They would shoot 12 free throws in the third quarter, with their next five points all coming from the charity stripe.

With three minutes to play, Troy led 40-28 before Athens netted a freebie of their own to stop the bleeding.

A Deitrick putback, followed by a Madigan free throw, extended Troy’s lead to 43-29 with two minutes left in the quarter.

Athens, who had gotten Troy in foul trouble at this point, went 3-of-4 from the line after that to cut it to 43-32.

A Barrett jumper followed by another Trojan putback extended the lead to 47-32. Just as they looked to be running away with it, Babcock got to the line and hit both free throws to keep it a 13-point deficit with a quarter left.

A Carling old-fashioned 3-point play to lead off the fourth made it a 10-point game. Athens would cut it to nine points as Brown had a steal and lay-up.

Troy responded with a Williams free throw, followed by a Selleck lay-up to push the lead back to 51-39.

A Babcock lay-up off a Carling assist with six minutes left made it a 10-point game again, but Barrett answered with a jumper.

Carling came back with a putback seconds later, but a Williams-to-Barrett pass play ended with two more points to Troy.

Athens got their first 3-pointer of the game with five minutes to go as Brown hit a 3-ball to cut it to 55-46.

That’s as close as it got, though, as Troy rattled off a 6-0 run to extend the lead to 15.

Babcock cut it to 61-48 with a lay-up, but Troy out scored them 9-5 in the final 2:30 to seal the win.

The Wildcats fall to 1-2 on the year, but return home Saturday to host NEB in a 4 p.m. start.

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January 11, 2021 Tim Birney

MOUNT CARMEL — Mount Carmel limited Athens to just 15 points, and built a 13-point halftime lead en route to a 61-40 win here Monday night in non-league boys basketball action.

“It’s a simple formula — play defense, make lay-ups, make foul shots, and win basketball games,” said Athens coach Jim Lister. “We did none of the above tonight.

“Plus, we played their game in the first half and scored 15 points,” he added. “Hopefully, this is a nice wake-up call for us. We learn from it, fix it and move on.”

Mount Carmel led 10-8 after the first eight minutes, then took control with an 18-7 run in the second quarter to take a 28-15 lead at the intermission.

Sophomore Mason Lister scored nine points in the second quarter as the Wildcats outscored MC, 16-14, but the Red Tornadoes closed out the game with a 19-9 run in the final eight minutes.

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January 11, 2021 Tim Birney

MOUNT CARMEL — Mount Carmel took immediate control with a 24-4 first-quarter blitz, and cruised to a 61-19 win over Athens here Monday night in non-league junior varsity boys basketball action.

The Red Tornadoes pulled away in the second quarter with a 24-7 run that gave them a 48-11 lead at the half.

Chris Mitchell led Athens with seven points, while Connor Mosher and Carson Smith added five points apiece, with each knocking down one 3-pointer.

Athens, now 1-1, returns to action Wednesday at Troy.

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January 9, 2021 Tim Birney

TIOGA JUNCTION, Pa. — Athens took control from the outset with a 21-4 game-opening run en route to an 88-33 season-opening win over Williamson here Saturday afternoon in NTL Large School boys basketball action.

The win was the first for rookie Wildcat head coach Jim Lister.

“I was a little bit nervous starting off the day, even though I was telling everyone I wasn’t,” he laughed. “I just wanted to get this first one behind us.

“I was thrilled for the kids today. They’ve been put on pause too long,” Lister noted. “They were ready to go, and I was real happy for them.

“It was a good day overall, and it’s a good way to start the season,” added Lister.

Sophomore Mason Lister triggered the game-opening run with a 3-pointer just 20 seconds into the contest, and sophomore Carson Smith capped it with a 3-pointer with 1:20 remaining in the first quarter.

In between, J.J. Babcock scored eight points. He finished the scoring in the opening stanza to give the Wildcats a 23-8 lead.

Lister said his team accomplished what it set out to do.

“Everything we preached all week, the kids played out in the game plan today,” he said. “It worked out well.

“We’ve been preaching playing good defense and playing as a team. I thought we played really well today,” noted Lister. “The team defense was excellent, there were a lot of steals, a lot of turnovers, and a lot of lay-ups.”

The Wildcats, who scored the first five points in the contest and never trailed, recorded 25 assists to just 14 turnovers.

Lister and Babcock scored nine points apiece in the second quarter to fuel a 26-9 run that extended the Wildcat lead to 49-17 at the halftime intermission.

Lister went to his bench in the second half, and it responded.

Smith drained a trio of 3-pointers, junior Nalen Carling added eight points, and sophomore Chris Mitchell scored his first six varsity points as Athens outscored the Warriors, 39-16, over the final 16 minutes.

“Our guys of the bench played well,” said Lister. “They moved the ball well.

“In practice all week, those guys were playing against the starters, running a lot of the same plays — a lot of the same offenses,” noted Lister. “And, of course, when you’re playing against kids who are just as good as you are, if not better, it makes you better.

“They had their opportunity today and took advantage of it, which is great,” he added.

Babcock, who made 12 of 17 shots from the field, led the Wildcats with 25 points, to go along with four assists and three rebounds, and Lister pumped in 20 points, including four 3-pointers, and grabbed five boards.

Smith scored 12 points on four 3-pointers for the Wildcats, while junior Tucker Brown contributed nine points, six steals, four assists, and four rebounds, Carling had eight points and a team-high seven rebounds, and Mitchell chipped in with six points and four boards.

Junior Shayne Reid had four points, four assists, and six steals in the win, and junior Troy Pritchard had four points, six rebounds, and three assists.

Jacob Schmitt led Williamson with 11 points and Kristian Mizdail added eight.
Athens returns to action Monday at Mount Carmel.

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January 8, 2021 Tim Birney

ATHENS — First-year boys basketball coach Jim Lister believes Athens has all the ingredients for a successful 2021 season.

“I think we have a little bit of everything,” he said. “We have guards who can handle the ball, we have kids who can score, and we have size in the paint.

“We have all the right tools, we just have to put it together,” noted Lister.

“I keep telling our guys: “if we play defense, make lay-ups, and make foul shots, we should win basketball games,’” added Lister.

Juniors Shayne Reid and Tucker Brown will start at guard, with 6-4 sophomore Mason Lister getting the nod at small forward, 6-1 junior Troy Pritchard starting at power forward, and 6-5 junior J.J. Babcock manning the center spot.

Lister expects 6-4 junior Nalen Carling, 6-6 senior Griffen Stein, senior James Benninger-Jones, and sophomore guard Carson Smith to see plenty of time off the bench.

Junior Ryan Thompson, sophomore Chris Mitchell, senior John Smith, and freshman Korey Miller will also vie for time.

Lister cites team unity as a strength in 2021.

“I think the team attitude and the team play is the biggest strength for this team,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of good communication the last week … these kids have played together for years, so they know one another.

“I think we lost a little of that last year,” noted Lister. “We didn’t have it at certain times and it cost us. When we got beat at Northeast, we didn’t play team basketball, and that was a game-changer for us.

“We had a big meeting after that game … we talked about being a team, and we went on a seven or eight-game run after that,” Lister added. “I think that proved to the kids how we need to play this game.”

Lister also expects the balance, versatility and depth of his roster to be a big strength.

“I think you can expect a lot of team basketball, and not one individual that you have to stop. You’re going to have to stop five guys,” he said.

“I can put a solid eight or nine on the floor at all times, and I can move them around and play them at different positions,” noted Lister. “I won’t be too concerned about foul trouble this year.

“Playing with these masks is another situation we’re going to have to deal with,” he added. “I think it’s going to be an issue for everybody, having a bench is going to be a key for everyone. Kids are going to get tired in a hurry, especially if you play any type of pressure defense.”

While not a concern, Lister knows his team will have to play defense.

“We need to play defense to be successful,” he said. “I think we can score points, and I think we can push the ball and make things very difficult on opposing defenses, but we will need to get back and play defense.

“Some times when you have a high-scoring team, they may give up a little bit on the defensive end of the floor,” added Lister. “We can’t afford to play that way.”

Lister knows he has one of the better players in the league in Babcock, and also knows the remainder of the starting five are known commodities around the league. He believes Carling and Benninger-Jones could open some eyes.

“Nalen Carling has grown … he loves the paint, he loves to rebound, and he has a really good work ethic,” said Lister.

“Nalen has the ability to shoot threes, he loves to pound underneath in the paint, and he can run the floor,” noted Lister. “I think he’s definitely going to surprise some people.

“James Benninger-Jones didn’t play last year, but he’s come out this year and really opened my eyes,” added Lister. “He does a lot of good things, and I think he’ll contribute a lot to this team.”

“I expect a very competitive league. I think we’ll have to be at our best every night to win,” said Lister.

Large School Division
“Troy is going to be tough. Ty Barrett is just an excellent basketball player,” noted Lister. “And, Wellsboro and Mansfield are always good.”

Small School Division
“Even without (Ben) Knapp, Canton is going to be a good basketball team.

“Northeast Bradford had our number last year, so we won’t take them lightly in any way, shape or form,” said Lister.

“And, I know all the Sayre kids,” added Lister. “They are loaded with athletes, and should battle with everyone.”

Athens opens the 2021 campaign this afternoon at Williamson.

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