Josh Thomas struggled.
That sums up Carbon Hill’s 56-47 win over Montgomery Academy Wednesday night at the state Final Four in Birmingham.
Owens scored a season-high 30 points and was unstoppable against a Montgomery Academy defense geared to slow him down. On the other end, Thomas, the Eagles’ top scorer, was a non-factor.
Owens, who scored 19 points in the opening half, also helped put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. Montgomery Academy pulled to within a point at 43-42 with 2:32 remaining, but Owens pushed the lead back to three points after driving through the lane — and defenders — for a layup.
The Eagles didn’t get within striking distance again.
Owens shot 8 of 12 from the field and was also 14 of 18 from the free throw line. He added three steals, two rebounds and two assists.
“Tylor Owens was everything we thought he was and then some,” Montgomery Academy coach Anthony McCall said. “By my estimation, he was the second-best player we’ve played against all year, and we’ve played against some good players.
“We played three different guys on him, we just couldn’t get it done. He was just better. All year we’ve been pretty good defensively. Today he really made some tough shots. He didn’t make uncontested shots. We challenged him. We tried to deny him the ball and take his energy level down if we could.”
McCall said Jackson-Olin’s Kieston Standifield was the best player Montgomery Academy has face this season.
As hot as Owens was Wednesday, Thomas was held in check. The sharpshooter, who was averaging 27.2 points over his last 12 games, scored 19 points, but was just 3-of-13 from the field. Most of his points came from the line where he was 12-of-16 for the game.
Thomas looked like he was heating up in the fourth quarter as he nailed a 3-pointer and knocked down four free throws to cut Carbon Hill’s lead to four points. From there, Carbon Hill’s defense took over, holding Thomas scoreless from the field for the rest of the quarter.
“We won this game because we were able to limit the touches of Josh Thomas. That was the difference in the game,” Epps said. “We didn’t allow him to go to a spell where he would go out and get points in bunches. Midway through the fourth, he got loose on a couple of shots. I told our guys to switch on the pick and roll, that way we wouldn’t give up the shot.”
Thomas was frustrated throughout the first half. He scored just five points through two quarters. Things didn’t get any better in the second half.
“We run the pick and roll offense and they were switching. It was a little tough,” said Thomas, who took the blame for his tough night shooting the ball. “I was trying to force the ball and wasn’t looking for my teammates. I was trying to do it myself, mostly.”
Thomas also had 9 turnovers.
Next up for Carbon Hill is a rematch with Greensboro, which knocked off the Bulldogs in the semifinals last year. Greensboro also beat Carbon Hill 62-53 — the Bulldogs’ worst defeat of the season — in December.