BY JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO – Whatever the Austin-East boys’ basketball team had during the first half of Wednesday’s Class AA state quarterfinal against No. 1 Wooddale didn’t come out of the locker room after the break.
Shocking many in attendance at the Murphy Center by having a one-point lead at the midpoint, undersized and underdog Austin-East couldn’t keep step with the Cardinals the final 16 minutes.
Wooddale walked away with a convincing 79-61 win to advance to Friday’s semifinals.
The Roadrunners finished the season 24-6 but returned to the state field for the first time since 2008.
Senior guard Ronney Pierson led the way for the Roadrunners on Wednesday with 15 points, thriving in the first-half spotlight with four 3s and helping A-E make a brief run in the fourth with another trey.
“Ronney’s a great shooter, when he frees himself up,” said Austin-East coach Marcus Stanton. “That was all of our momentum at that time. The team was feeding off of that.
“And when his shot is falling, we’re a great team because we can go inside and out.”
Austin-East played its best in the first half, taking a 34-33 lead over Wooddale (31-4) into the break thanks to eight first-half 3s and limiting 6-foot-8 Oregon signee Chandler Lawson to six points and three turnovers.
That only triggered Wooddale, though.
The Cardinals responded with an 8-0 run to start the third quarter, and Lawson’s two-handed dunk with 4 minutes left in the third gave Wooddale a 46-36 lead.
Pierson’s fifth 3 of the night came with 6 minutes, 15 seconds left in the fourth to cut Wooddale’s lead to 58-51.
But the Cardinals responded with a quick 10-4 run to keep the Roadrunners at bay for good.
“That’s when some player needs to step up (and stop the run),” Stanton said.
But that didn’t happen. Lawson finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. His 6-8 sophomore brother, Jonathan, had 12 rebounds.
Early on, though, Wooddale baited Austin-East into a perimeter shooting contest by making its first four 3-point attempts early in the first quarter en route to a 12-2 lead.
The Roadrunners responded to the challenge via Pierson, who went 4-for-9 from the arc in the first half and scored 12 points. His hit back-to-back 3s to give the Roadrunners a 31-28 lead with 3:18 left in the half.
And A-E took a 34-33 lead into the break.
But Wooddale dissolved it quickly and ran into the semifinals.
“We have a tough bunch here. But we didn’t do anything that we planned in the first half. They were moving the ball extremely well and hitting a lot of tough shots,” said Stanton. “We just got out-run in the first quarter and that never happens.
“Our kids are tough, and they fought back.”