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Athens Christian boys hold off Lakeview Academy 80-76 in matchup of 8-A's top teams
Joel Larson, of Lakeview Academy, drives to the basket in front of Zach Lillie of Athens Christian during the game at Lakeview Friday night. - photo by Tom Reed

 It didn’t decide the region championship, it didn’t even do much in regards to tiebreakers, but don’t tell that to the players who ran up and down the court from the opening tip-off to the final whistle Friday night in Gainesville.

Because if Lakeview Academy and Athens Christian meet again, a Region 8-A title will, in all likelihood, be on the line. In the meantime, the Lions have to find a way to slow down Zach Lillie.

Athens Christian and its star forward held off Lakeview 80-76 in a crossover game between the top teams in Region 8-A’s North and South subregions.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do if we face them again in the region tournament,” said Lions’ power forward Austin Montgomery. “And that’s our goal.”

Lillie made the difference in a game that featured two evenly matched teams, scoring 26 points in the second half and 28 total, including the team’s first 12 points of the fourth quarter to turn a 67-64 Lions lead into a 74-67 game in the Eagles’ favor.

“He’s really good and he can really jump,” said Lakeview forward Joel Larsen, who was tasked with defending Lillie when he would spell Montgomery. “But I felt like if we made a couple of shots then we could have won the game.

“It was a good game on both of our parts.”

Lakeview (16-4, 9-1 8A-A) came close in the final minutes, but couldn’t get back even after Lillie finished a 10-0 run in a game that featured two high-flying offenses, heated play and a battle in the paint between Lillie and Lions’ junior Montgomery, who tallied a team-high 26 points.

Montgomery and the rest of the Lions were able to stop Lillie in the first half and get the forward quickly in foul trouble, but he was nearly uncoverable in the second half, forcing Lakeview to foul often. The Lions sent their opponents to the line 37 times throughout the night, with the Eagles (10-0, 17-2) converting on 17 of the free throws.

Lakeview was just 3 for 9 at the free throw line.

“I guess we fouled too much,” said Lakeview coach Seth Vining. “It was a good, tough basketball game, and I hope we get better from it.”

The Lions could use a few more 3-pointers that find their marks if a rematch does occur. The hosts hit five in the first half but just two in the second, meaning much of the scoring was going to have to go through Lillie in the paint.

While Montgomery was the only Lakeview player in double-digits scoring, 10 players scored for the Lions, including Matt Askounis with nine, and Larsen and Austin Pearson with eight points each. Pearson was honored before the game for surpassing 1,000 career points the week prior.

The loss snaps a 10-game winning streak for Lakeview, not to mention the team’s first region loss of the year, although the Lions are still securely in first place in the North subregion.

Athens Christian won its 11th consecutive game and remains perfect in region play.

And while the Eagles might have come out ahead in the year’s first meeting, the region’s top two teams aren’t separated by much.

Throughout the first half, both teams battled back and forth in a fast-paced affair, with Lakeview taking a 38-34 halftime lead.

The Lions pulled slightly ahead with their long range shooting (five first-half 3s) and the play of the 6-foot-8 Montgomery, who scored a team-high 11 points in the half.

Adrian London led the Eagles with 12 points in the half.

Neither team could find too much breathing room in the third quarter, although Lakeview was able to take a 51-46 lead after a 3-pointer by Montgomery.

Athens Christian’s Demetrius McWhorter (16 points) hit two quick layups to even the score at 65-65 soon after, with neither team creating any space until Lillie’s fourth-quarter run, which included a couple of dunks and an alley-oop.

ATHENS CHRISTIAN 48, LAKEVIEW ACADEMY GIRLS 42: Nicole Bishop led all scorers with 19 points and the Lady Eagles held off the Lady Lions.

Lakeview senior point guard Kelsey Gilbert scored a team-high 13 points as the Lady Lions (12-7, 7-3 8-A) rallied from a double-digit deficit early in the fourth quarter to get within one at 43-42 with under two minutes remaining after a tough jumper by Gilbert.

It would be the last points of the game for the Lady Lions, while Athens Christian (6-12, 5-4) converted all four of its final free throws to put the game away.

The last minutes turned into a free throw battle, and the Lady Eagles reached the line a few more times throughout the game, finishing 14 of 29 while Lakeview went 11 of 21.

Sophomore Kaylee McClendon added 10 points for the Lady Lions, who host Athens Academy today at 6 p.m.

Natasha Broughton scored 12 points for the Lady Eagles, who host White County at 2 p.m. today.

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