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Mount Zion sizes up Union Grove in 71-49 win

J.R. Holder lived above the rim much of the night in Mount Zion's 71-49 victory over Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A foe Union Grove. Holder led all scorers with 24 points.

J.R. Holder lived above the rim much of the night in Mount Zion's 71-49 victory over Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A foe Union Grove. Holder led all scorers with 24 points.

JONESBORO — If you’re waiting for Union Grove coach Russ Atkins to blame his team’s lack of rebounding against Mount Zion on height, you might be waiting a while.

The Bulldogs turned a one-point deficit into a 71-49 victory against Union Grove in a Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A Tuesday, as J.R. Holder finished with a game-high 24 points with five rebounds and two blocked shots.

Union Grove’s tallest player stands 6-foot-2. Mount Zion has eight players who were that tall or taller. But no excuse, says Atkins, for the Wolverines’ lack of dominance on the glass.

“I think some of it is size, but a lot of it is we’re not working to get into the right position,” Atkins said. “We’re not defending. We’re not getting in place necessary to rebound the basketball.”

It wasn’t just rebounding that did the Wolverines in.

It was turnovers as Union Grove had 17 of them. It was transition defense. Mount Zion’s 13-4 run that erased Union Grove’s 11-10 lead at the end of the first quarter, turning it into a 29-20 halftime advantage, came mostly on dunks and easy layups off of fast breaks.

It was the Wolverines’ inability to get their guards some of the open looks on the perimeter they enjoyed in Saturday’s 61-51 loss to the same Bulldogs squad.

“You know, they’re just so athletic and long,” Atkins said. “We didn’t do a good job attacking the basket. We didn’t do a good job with ball fakes, and we just weren’t smart with the basketball. The first half, not so bad. The second half was terrible.”

After Union Grove’s Jay Shorts scored a bucket to give the Wolverines its first lead at the end of the quarter, Holder went off, scoring eight of the Bulldogs next 12 points, several on dunks in transition. By the time he buried a three from the top of the key with 1:18 left in the first half, Mount Zion had seized complete control of the game.

Holder’s dominance surprised no one, especially his coach Maurice Triche.

“He played excellent defense,” Triche said. “He was always attacking the basket. Hit some big shots,” Triche said. “Just an all around good game from him. That’s just what you grow to expect from J.R.”

Tuesday’s contest was a rematch from three days ago when the teams played at Union Grove. Atkins said it was the first time in his 21 years of coaching that he can remember playing back to back games against the same team.

He said he regretted that his Wolverines weren’t able to better capitalize on the scheduling nuance.

“We basically had a four quarter scouting report on them from Saturday,” said Atkins in reference to the first game against Mount Zion. “I came into it optimistic, thinking that we had a feel for their players, and a feel for what they tried to do. But I don’t know what it was. Maybe we had weary legs. Maybe we were just tired.”

Meanwhile, Triche’s bunch benefited from the familiarity by fixing its defense to take away Union Grove’s perimeter game.

“We knew they had some guards that could shoot,” Triche said. “But tonight it was about defense. We knew they’d try to mix it up in there with us, but our guys kept on responding. They’re showing the maturity level they need to keep winning. Slowly but surely, we’re settling in place and starting to take things one game at a time.”

In addition to Holder, the Bulldogs got 14 points and five steals fromTrent Molden while Cody Simmons had 10 rebounds and three of the Bulldogs seven total blocked shots to go along with his nine points.

Sean Williams paced Union Grove with 18 points and Jay Shorts added 10. The Wolverines have now lost three straight games, which is sending Atkins back to the drawing board.

“We’ve just been in a rut as of late and we’ve got to find our way out of it,” he said. “That’s my job.”

Union Grove (12-9, 5-6) will host Drew Friday at 7:30 p.m., while Mount Zion (14-5, 9-3) will travel to Mundy’s Mill Friday for an 8:30 p.m. tip.