Albany — Rivalry games are emotional, tension filled matchups featuring a team’s largest opponent of importance to them. West and South Albany entered Tuesday’s rivalry showdown on completely different paths, with the Bulldogs riding a four game winning streak, and the Redhawks on a two game losing streak after an 8-0 start to the year. A close one throughout, West Albany found an opening in the second half, hitting the gas pedal and cruising to a hard fought victory over their bitter rivals.
With momentum on their side, West Albany started the game off with a Justin Henderson bucket and Kobe Ruiz trey, taking an early 5-0 lead on the Redhawks. Isaiah Gilliam got South Albany on the board with a layup, but back to back inside scores by TJ Zimmerman extended the Bulldogs lead to 9-2. After trading buckets the next five possessions, a 6-0 West Albany run made it a 19-8 lead for the home squad. A 6-0 Redhawks run to end the quarter cut the lead to 19-14 after a quarter of play.
The Redhawks came out firing in the second, starting on another 6-0 run to make it a 12-0 overall run and take the lead 20-19. West responded with a 4-0 run to retake the lead 23-20 early in the second quarter. The tug of war would continue throughout the rest of the second, as neither team managed to get back to back buckets until Zimmerman did late in the second, which ultimately gave the Bulldogs a 35-32 lead at the half over South Albany.
West Albany went the locker room, had a talk, and came out firing like a machine gun. Completely startling the Redhawks, the Bulldogs opened the second half on an 11-0 run to blow open a 46-32 advantage with around five minutes left in the quarter. South Albany traded buckets back and forth with West Albany afterwards, but the 11-0 run completely changed the game landscape as the Bulldogs led firmly 54-43 after three quarters. In the final frame, South Albany opened on a 4-0 run, but West Albany’s 6-0 response ultimately sealed the Redhawks fate, as West Albany hit their free throws en route to a 73-61 rivalry win over South Albany.
With their winning streak intact, keeping their rival on their cold streak was just sweet, cold topping on the Bulldogs cake. West Albany’s TJ Zimmerman and Luke Killinger discussed the victory and what lies ahead for the Bulldogs in conference and the playoffs.
TJ Zimmerman on containing Isaiah Gilliam, “I thought we did a good job, really speaks a lot about how this team is growing. We were able to remain calm and not lose focus, we shifted the zone to try and get him to shoot, and they only had one three in the game. Isaiah was having a great game, so we had to try and get him to take tougher shots, and I think we did a lot better in the second half.”
Luke Killinger on the team mood, “We’re excited, we’re excited to see what we can do, and we’ll do our best. We feel like we need to control what we can control, and just keep coming in every day to get better.”
TJ Zimmerman on maintaining momentum, “We just need to stay together as a team, I mean we’ve had some tough starts, but I think if we stay together as a group then we can go anywhere we want to accomplish our goals. On the floor, keep crashing the boards and execute what we need to do, Coach gives us great game plans so we just need to execute.”
Luke Killinger on second half adjustments, “We had to change how we were defending a little bit, we used some zone as you saw in the fourth quarter which helped slow him (Isaiah) down a bit, and we just did what we could do. Kobe did a great job locking him down too.”
West Albany (8-4, 3-1) hosts Corvallis Friday, South Albany (8-3, 1-2) travels to Lebanon Thursday