Strong 2nd half leads Tigers to comeback win

By NICHOLAS SULLIVAN
Posted 1/8/21

During his time at ESPN, Dan Patrick made famous the line, "You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him." That type of praise is reserved for unstoppable players, and Adairsville's T.J. …

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Strong 2nd half leads Tigers to comeback win

Posted

During his time at ESPN, Dan Patrick made famous the line, "You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him."

That type of praise is reserved for unstoppable players, and Adairsville's T.J. Printup has risen to that level this season. But there's a lot of attention with such a profile. Opposing players, coaches and fans all do whatever they can to get a player of such quality off their game.

North Murray succeeded with that game plan Friday ... or at least the Mountaineers did for one half. Remember, you can only hope to contain him.

"They had a good game plan to be really physical with us," Tigers head coach Alex Disbrow said. "... It really gave us problems in the first half.

"We talked about composure in [the locker room at halftime]. When the team's got to be playing outside the rules to compete with you, you know you've got them if you can maintain your composure. We had to work on that. It's not been a strong suit, which is why they went to that strategy."

Well, the Tigers, Printup in particular, brought a different attitude into the third quarter of the Region 6-AAA home game, and it completely flipped the script. After North Murray carried a double-digit lead into halftime, Adairsville throughly dominated a second half marred by intentional fouls from the visitors en route to a 62-54 win.

"I'm really proud of that, because that's not always been our DNA," Disbrow said of not retaliating. "We've often wanted to be in the fray — instead of being above the fray. Tonight, we played above it. I hope we can use it as a building point."

Following an opening half that saw him score just two points in barely two minutes of action, Printup poured in 21 points over the final couple of quarters. He got hammered seemingly every time he touched the ball, leading to a 15-for-17 outing from the foul line.

Printup picked up two quick fouls to open the game, but the junior briefly re-entered midway through the second quarter with Adairsville trailing 31-20. Immediately, Printup drew a technical foul against North Murray.

But after making both free throws, Printup was yanked off the floor and benched for the remainder of the first half.

"I was more upset that he started chirping with the other team's bench," Disbrow said of the decision. "That told me that he, mentally, was not there. ... 

"We sat him down and flat out told him, 'If you're going to talk to other team's benches, if you're going to talk to the stands, you're not going to play here.'"

Printup responded well coming out of the locker room, helping key a 19-0 run that turned a 45-33 deficit early in the third quarter into a 52-45 lead early in the fourth. Overall, he had 12 points in the third quarter and nine in the fourth.

"That's growth for T.J., in my opinion," Disbrow said.

While Printup received plenty of attention from the Mountaineers, Tre Mitchell stepped up considerably to supplement the Tigers offense. The junior had exactly five points in each of the first three quarters before dropping home seven in the fourth to finish with 22 for the second consecutive game.

With Mitchell coming on strong as of late, he's becoming a sidekick worthy of leading the fight when Printup is out. In fact, the duo combined for 33 of Adairsville's 35 second-half points.

"Where Tre is really showing growth is understanding when he needs to be the man and when he needs to play as a facilitator to T.J.," Disbrow said. "That's not always been the way he's played. He's always played with great energy and great speed, but it's been rim-to-rim. ...

"He's learning when to facilitate and when to take over. He's learning when T.J. is out for rest or for fouls, he needs to be more aggressive and more of a scorer. That shows tremendous growth in him mentally and as a basketball player."

As impressive as the one-two punch of Printup and Mitchell was after halftime, the game likewise turned around due to the Tigers' work on the defensive end. Following a 7-0 spurt by the Mountaineers to take the aforementioned 45-33 lead, the visitors were held to nine points the rest of the game.

"We made a conscious decision that we are not going to get beat off the bounce and let them get the ball in the lane," Disbrow said of the defensive adjustment. "If they are going to beat us, they're going to beat us by 60, hitting 3-point shot after 3-point shot. We weren't going to let them beat us by getting in the lane."

To its credit, North Murray did manage to climb back within 56-54 with under 3 minutes to go. Adairsville, though, salted the game away at the foul line, finishing the night 26-for-33 on free throws.

"We call them game-winners, because they win and lose games," Disbrow said. "If we shoot 50%, that's anybody's ballgame."

It also could have been anybody's game — or more than likely a near-certain Mountaineers win — had Printup not been able to settle down in the second half.

The early front-runner for DTN Player of the Year, Printup plays with plenty of emotion. North Murray found a way to use that against him in the first half and it saw Adairsville trail 38-27 at the interval.

 But the rest of the way, Printup let his game do the talking. And it spoke volumes.

As Disbrow put it, "He came back and was his normal awesome self in the second half."