By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
With Athens looking to push the ball up the floor, Danville’s Shayne Riley reached back about as far as his arm would allow to tip a pass.
As the ball bounced off of the floor, Zach Kozick swooped in to grab the carom and laid the ball gently off of the glass in the opening minutes.
Danville’s full-court press clearly affected Athens early, making crossing the mid-court stripe a chore and Danville rode their early momentum to an 83-41 win in the District 4 Class AAA quarterfinals at the Whitey McCloskey Center on Friday.
With the victory, Danville (16-7) will face Central Columbia in the semifinals.
“(The win tonight) means a lot,” Kozick said. “It’s a huge confidence builder coming in with the number three seed. I think we’re better than our record shows.”
Riley and Kozick worked together like a well-oiled machine against Athens (12-11), pressuring the Wildcats on nearly every in-bounds play, forcing errant passes and turnovers.
“Our game plan (was) to try to go up and down the court with (Athens) and run them off the court early,” Riley said.
“(We wanted to) try to get them rattled quickly to see how they (would) react,” Danville coach Lenny Smith added. “The last thing you want to see is some pressure in your face.”
Once those turnovers became offensive chances for Danville, the Danville guards frequently finished with points as Kozick, Riley and Austin Renz combined for 64 of Danville’s 83 points.
“We’ve been waiting for (the playoffs) all season,” Kozick said. “I thought we came out with a good game plan and a lot of energy and (Athens is) a good team we didn’t know much about. I think it was all about the energy we showed tonight.”
The Ironmen quickly adjusted to an opponent that they had not seen this season, using quick hands and anticipation to disrupt the Wildcats.
Kozick led the way with 26 points for the Ironmen, while Renz added 22 points including six 3-pointers and Riley finished with 16.
“Zack Kozick had a monster game,” Smith said. I thought he played about as good as you can play. Austin Renz shooting makes us a better team. When Shayne Riley plays the way he played tonight, we become an outstanding team.”
Danville’s guards worked together from the start, as the Danville scored the first nine points of the game capped by a 3-pointer from Renz. Renz added another 3-pointer to push the Ironmen lead to double digits, 12-2.
While Kozick and Riley slashed to the hoop and Renz made his living on the perimeter, Phil Stemm spent the night cleaning the glass inside.
When the Ironmen sent the ball inside, Stemm was frequently on the other end of the pass as the junior scored 14 points along with grabbing eight rebounds. Stemm had more than just a near double-double on offense, however, limiting the Wildcats’ Dan Moyer to four points, preventing the 6-7 Moyer from establishing a presence down low.
In addition to shutting down Moyer, Stemm blocked four shots, giving a red-hot Danville team extra opportunities to run in transition.
Stemm’s defense allowed Kozick to take control as Kozick cut through the lane to finish or found open teammates.
Kozick scored 18 of his 26 points in the first half.
Using a stretch of 12 straight points late in the second quarter, Danville went into the half ahead, 41-15.
Brandon Fauver led the way for Athens with 12 points, scoring in every quarter for the Wildcats.