The situation in question? Anniston’s defense.
“As soon as you dropped the ball,” Guntersville’s Darrel Jackson said, “it felt like seven or eight people were surrounding you.”
With only a two-point halftime lead, the Bulldogs turned up the defensive pressure on Thursday at Pete Mathews Coliseum and paved the way for their 62-46 win. With the win, Anniston advances to Saturday’s Class 4A regional final where the Bulldogs take on Oneonta at 2:15 p .m.
While defensive pressure has long been Anniston’s mantra, the Bulldogs had to grow into the practice this season.
“Lately, we’ve been doing it,” Anniston coach Schuessler Ware said of the full-court press. “It’s been more as the season has progressed. The team has been jelling, and it’s allowed us to do it.
“I hope we get better at it, we had a few breakdowns defensively.”
Few of those breakdowns came in the second half, though.
Of Guntersville’s 30 turnovers, 20 came in the second half as Anniston finally began to separate from the Wildcats. After Jabrielle Snodgrass’ 3-pointer 46 seconds into the half gave Anniston a 27-24 lead, it never trailed again.
Any hopes of a comeback by Guntersville were further compounded by the fact the shots weren’t falling. The Wildcats went 0-for-8 from 3-point range.
“They’re very athletic and quick and will kind of make you do things you don’t want to do,” Guntersville coach Fred Steger said. “We really don’t rely on (the 3-point shot). We have a couple of shooters … we’re better than this.”
While Steger said he warned his players of Pete Mathews’ two 3-point lines — one for high school and one for college — “everything was front of the rim.” It was the first time the Wildcats had played on a floor with double lines.
Snodgrass, however, was right at home.
Having played at The Pete before — even as recently as the Cahoun County Tournament — Snodgrass found his stroke in the third quarter and helped solidify the momentum in Anniston’s corner heading into the final quarter.
After just one in the first half, Snodgress knocked down three 3-pointers in the third quarter and two in a 10-second span increasing the Anniston lead to nine, 37-28, its largest to that point.
He finished 3-for-4 in the quarter and 4-for-6 in the second half to key his team-high 20 points.
LaSheddrick Edmondson added 14 points, Josiah Atkins had 11 off the bench and Darius Cottingham chipped in 10.
While Anniston’s lead never got below six points in the final quarter, it wasn’t until the final two minutes before it ever felt comfortable. Long after it should have been in the bag for the Bulldogs.
Starting near the five-minute mark, Guntersville began to foul hoping to play its way back into the contest. The Bulldogs went on a horrendous stretch, going 7-for-18 from the stripe for just more than three minutes.
“Like I told somebody the other day, ‘I know it doesn’t look like we work on shooting free throws, but we work on it,’” Ware said. “They have a tendency to stress themselves out. They want to hit the shot, we work on this daily.
“Staying focused is the key.”
With 1:33 remaining, Cottingham made both from the line taking the lead to double digits, and Anniston closed the game out making 7 of 8.
At this point in the season, it’s the latter performance Ware said it would take for the Bulldogs to legitimately make a charge at their third state title.
“At this stage of the game,” Ware said, “everybody has got to hit those things.”
Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.