For nearly an entire quarter, the Smiths Station boys basketball team played toe-to-toe with Opelika in the semifinals of the Area 5-6A tournament on Friday night at Central High.
A half-court buzzer-beater by Opelika's Aldreecus Wilson gave the Bulldogs a two-point lead after one, however, and the Panthers never could regain the pace.
After a 23-win regular season, Smiths Station fell short of the state playoffs with a 71-48 loss.
"I guess it (helped them)," Panthers coach Steven Davis said of Wilson's shot. "It had to boost their confidence."
The shot turned a 17-16 Smiths Station lead into a 19-17 deficit going into the second quarter. Opelika (17-10) opened up that frame on a 7-0 run over the first two minutes to extend its lead to nine. The Panthers (23-6) never got within six points again the rest of the game.
Opelika pressured Smiths Stations into turnovers and low-percentage shots while taking advantage of easy baskets on the other end.
Led by 17 points from T.J. Presley, including 12 in the second half, the Bulldogs outscored Smiths Station 35-20 after halftime.
"I don't know if we defended or rebounded the ball very well," Davis said. "Especially in the second half. We didn't shoot the ball very well. We usually shoot a lot of threes, but they weren't falling tonight.
"Really, though, it comes down to defense, and we never got into a groove defensively."
Opelika was consistent, scoring 19 in the first, 17 in both the second and third and 18 in the fourth. By comparison, Smiths Station scored 10 in both the second and third quarters and 11 in the fourth.
Two players reach double-figures for the Panthers, Chandler Ferguson with 11 and Mike Hardin with 10. In addition to Presley, Jarius Johnson scored 12 for Opelika, while Kenneth Keith and Trey Porter each scored 10.
Bulldogs coach John Wadsworth said that he thought his team was fresh after a week of minimal practice.
"We didn't practice much this week because of injuries last week," he said. "I think we were very fresh. Our defense was phenomenal."
Perhaps nothing was bigger than that shot at the end of the first quarter, however. Wilson finished with only five points in the game, but Wadsworth said the shot seemed to light a fire under his team.
"It was huge," he said. "It's the second one he's hit like that this year. It just seemed to really jump start the kids. It relaxed everybody."
"It gave us more energy," Presley added. "We needed something like that."
For Smiths Station, a promising season comes to an end. Davis said that his team, with six juniors and two starters coming back next season, is still in good shape.
"We'll be competitive again," he said.
For Opelika, it clinched a playoff spot with the win. It will face Central High in the area final at 7 p.m. Monday.
Friday at Central
Smiths Station 17 10 10 11--48
Opelika 19 17 17 18--71
Smiths Station (48)
Ferguson 11, Hardin 10, Wilson 8, Toliver 6, Maddox 5, Robinson 2, Purnell 1.
Presley 17, Johnson 12, Porter 10, Keith 10, Tolbert 6, Buggs 6, Wilson 5, Mitchell 3, Frazier 2.
Record: Smiths Station, 23-6; Opelika, 17-10. Next: Smiths Station, season over; Opelika, Monday vs. Central.