Alex Akard is Maryville’s secret weapon.
It’s clear each night what the 6-foot-8 junior can do in the post, scoring at the rim and snagging rebounds. Also in his gauntlet of tricks, though, is an ability to knock down free throws not often seen in lengthy post players.
When Akard stepped to the line Friday inside Marvin L. Boring Gymnasium, needing to seal Maryville’s upset win over Class 4A No. 1 William Blount, he proved why the Rebels count so much on him in so many phases of the game.
Akard knocked down two free throws, then was fouled while snagging a rebound on the other end. He stepped to the line and, again, drained both free throws, capping the Rebels’ 64-59 win over the Governors.
“That's huge because, typically, teams are gonna try to foul the big man,” Maryville coach Wes Lambert told The Daily Times. “When our big man shoots as well as he does, it's almost like a welcoming (sign), and gosh, I'm so proud of the way that he just stepped up there in confidence and stroked it.”
William Blount coach Kevin Windle said “you have to pick somebody” to foul late in the game, and that player was Akard, though Windle conceded he is a strong free throw shooter.
“We had three chances there at the end,” Windle said. “Didn't play very well in the first half, didn't play good enough in the third to cut it. Played pretty decent in the fourth to be able to give us a chance, but had some chances at the end, couple plays here or there that could have gone different and we'd be having a different conversation.”
Maryville (14-7, 3-2 District 4-4A) stayed ahead throughout, with Jonathan Woodlee hitting an inside shot while fouled, then drilling the ensuing free throw to give the Rebels a 12-7 advantage to end the first quarter.
They led 29-22 at halftime and 45-40 to end the third quarter, the drama swelling as they kept staving off potential Govs comebacks. Reece Pride cut it to 51-48 with a lay-in midway through the fourth quarter, then Caden Windle nailed two free throws to make it 60-57 late, but several missed 3-pointers kept William Blount behind.
Grady Robertson (24 points) connected inside to make it a one-point game with 17 seconds remaining, but Akard iced the Govs with his key free throws late.
“We didn't play our best game,” Windle said. “We had a lot of hustle plays that it looked like we would get. Sometimes the ball bounces the wrong way or whatever. They shot the ball very well. I had guys make some tough shots and, defensively, we had some breakdowns that we will fix, and we'll get better. Overall, love my team. I wouldn't trade any of my guys for any of their guys … and really appreciate all the support from the student section.
“I tell you what, I love our team, and I love our, our student section and our fans. Very proud of this community and everything they do for this school and this team.”
The win didn’t just serve as upset-fueled excitement for Maryville and disappointment for William Blount. It kept things wide open in District 4-4A, in which the frontrunner, Hardin Valley, is just one district victory ahead of Maryville, William Blount and Farragut.
Whatever happens later, though, didn’t matter to the Rebels on Friday. They were too focused on what they had just accomplished.
“It was awesome,” Lambert said. “That's why you coach, that's why you play games, a great atmosphere like this, a county rivalry. You're happy that your boys step up and you're happy that they take care of business down the stretch. They love to make me worried. They love to scare me, but man, I'm proud of them.
“The biggest thing is being patient. A game like this, everything about you is amped up. There were times where we were quick on offense, trying to do something too fast or trying to force things, Just a constant reminder, ‘Hey, we're in control. We're in the driver's seat. Let's do our thing and make them adjust.’ And we did.”
Maryville girls 34, William Blount 33: Maryville coach Taylor Clark didn’t anticipate what she saw on the court Friday.
In a game that stretched into overtime, Maryville scored double-digits in just one period, while William Blount didn’t do so at all. The Lady Governors tallied just three points in the second quarter, while the Lady Rebels produced just one in the third.
“I didn't expect it to be that much of a defensive game,” Clark told The Daily Times. “I know we'd been struggling a little bit offensively if we don't get the ball inside. Our outside game's been struggling just a little bit. It really was a defensive game. I didn't expect it to be quite like that.”
While the defensive dominance of Friday’s game may have been a surprise to Clark, its outcome was a positive one, as Maryville turned on its offense when needed and outlasted William Blount, 34-33, in overtime at Marvin L. Boring Gymnasium.
The Lady Rebels (10-11, 2-3 District 4-4A) scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and nine during the overtime period; they had tallied just 14 across the first three quarters.
William Blount (10-12, 0-6) struggled offensively as well, but did enough to build an 18-14 lead to end the third period. It extended that advantage to 24-14 in the fourth before Maryville mounted a comeback, scoring seven unanswered points before Zoee Harrison connected on an inside bucket to knot the score at 25-all.
Jada Edwards’ last-second heave just missed at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
“I feel like we've kind of struggled a little bit all year, especially (in the) second half offensively,” William Blount coach Jason Kallenberg said. “So I know on our part, points were going to be hard to come by because they are a good team defensively.
“I'm so proud of our kids for us not working very much on what we implemented tonight and for them to go out and carry it out the way they did. I'm just proud of them.”
Maryville took a quick 32-25 lead in overtime before William Blount mounted its own comeback. Chloe Russell nailed two free throws in the final seconds, cutting the deficit to one, but the Lady Govs couldn’t connect on their final shot attempt.
“You walk in (the locker room) and you see kids in tears and I mean, and I don't hide anything. I broke down,” Kallenberg said. “I hurt for them. I asked them, 'What's the difference between tonight and other nights?' They were just like, 'We competed and we invested.' I told them, 'That's all we ever wanted from you guys,' and I said, 'You can grow from that.'
“I just hurt for them. I'm sure I'll sit back and watch the game and look, sit and go, 'I should have been better for them in this area,' or 'I should have been better for them in this area.'”
For the Lady Rebels, the goal is always to stay the course, allowing time for things to work out. So when the game didn’t go as anticipated Friday, that’s exactly what they did, and they reaped the benefits of that strategy.
“I just preach to them (to) trust yourself, trust your teammates and trust our process,” Clark said. “As long as we do that, we can sustain their runs that they're making and we'll go on our own in due time.
“So proud (of the team). I thought that they showed a little bit more of our mental toughness rather than our physical toughness. I tell them, I always say this, ‘An ugly win is always better than a pretty loss, especially in district.’ So that was big for us.”