With about five minutes to go in the 2017 Class 4A state championship game, the Carver Lady Tigers were in trouble.
Carver had trailed crosstown rival Columbus by double digits for the majority of their showdown at Georgia Tech, and the Lady Tigers were running out of time. Despite the game’s grim appearance as the minutes ticked by, Carver head coach Anson Hundley refused to panic.
Instead, he offered the same advice he always gave when things looked bad for his team.
“I told them what I did anytime we were in a situation like that: ‘We’re fine. We’re going to keep rolling, keep doing what we’ve got to do and it’s going to turn,’” Hundley said. “I said, ‘Just make the shots you need to make, and I’ll take care of the rest.’”
That outlook nearly led to the biggest victory in program history.
The Lady Tigers rallied in the closing minutes of regulation, culminating in Alycia Reece’s free throws with just a few seconds left on the clock to force overtime. Carver continued back and forth with Columbus in the extra session before Columbus forward Tatyana Wyatt’s 3-pointer left the Lady Tigers with a tough 69-67 loss.
Carver’s comeback, though unsuccessful, was just another example of the team’s success under Hundley in the past season. The Lady Tigers never backed down due to their relative lack of size, instead peeling off 26 victories and winning the Region 1-4A tournament title in the most successful season in program history.
As a result, Hundley was selected as the All-Bi-City 4A-7A Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
It was no secret throughout the year that Carver would be overmatched as far as size in a lot of its games. To compensate, Hundley’s crew played fast and fearless, implementing a press defense that forced countless mistakes by opponents.
The secret to that type of play working, Hundley said, was the team members being unselfish.
“We didn’t have any individuals,” Hundley said. “We had to buy into the team concept. We couldn’t feel like we had a superstar. Everything we did, we did it as a team. We worked as a team, and we played defense as a team.”
That style of play was especially evident in Carver’s playoff run. Several of the Lady Tigers’ game down the stretch, such as their playoff victories over Jefferson and Cross Creek, were undecided in the final minutes of action. It took exceptional efforts from different players — Mya Millner one game, Reese the next and Ja’Nya Love-Hill after that — to keep Carver’s dream season alive.
The ability for any one player to step up was also evident in the title game loss. Reese hit a momentum-shifting 3-pointer just minutes before her harrowing free throws. Love-Hill was near unstoppable at point guard as the game tightened and didn’t show any hesitation as only a sophomore.
Hundley’s side came out with a loss to close its season, but that didn’t completely taint the experience for the sixth-year head coach.
“Man, it just felt good to see your hard work in motion,” Hundley said. “To just see it get a reward, even though we didn’t win, it was gratification. That something we talked about. If we worked hard, good things will come to you.”
Hundley said he and his players can’t bask in the glory for long, as it’s already about time to return to the weight room and began preparation for next season. The relentless attitude the Lady Tigers played with all winter will have to carry over to spring and summer, during which time they will work to make last year’s run the norm instead of an anomaly.
The best part, as least to Hundley, is what next season and beyond could hold in store for the program.
“As we came back and did all those things, we did it with juniors and sophomores,” Hundley said. “That makes me feel good about our future.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports