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Caleb Turrentine / The Tribune Tallassee’s Sandarius Hughley (2) battles for a rebound during Tuesday’s game against Auburn.

Trailing by one with just over a minute to go in last Tuesday’s boys basketball game, Tallassee needed to find a way to score against a stout Auburn defense. The ball found its way into the hands of Sandarius Hughley, who drove the rim and released a floater but it was off the rim and Auburn recovered the rebound.

Hughley did not give up easily though. After a foul and a timeout from Tallassee, Auburn inbounded the ball and Hughley quickly harassed the ball handler to force a turnover.

“We wanted to contain the dribble and try to get the steal,” Hughley said. “I knew we had them right there. Once I forced that turnover, I knew we had them right where we wanted.”

Tallassee (3-0) quickly turned the turnover into points as Tavarious Griffin knocked down two free throws with 29 seconds to go. Hughley and the Tigers had one more stop in them as Auburn missed the final shot of the game to give Tallassee a 38-37 victory.

Hughley did not get on the scoresheet for the first time all season but his defense led the way in a physical battle for four quarters. Hughley finished with three steals to go along with four rebounds and two assists but he forced several more turnovers along the way and helped keep the Auburn offense out of a rhythm.

“Before the game, I looked at him in front of the team and said, ‘You can give us more than just scoring,’” Tallassee coach Keiven Mixson said. “He has scored for us in the past but he’s a great defensive player and I wanted to see that (last Tuesday). I challenged him and he delivered.”

Hughley has earned the team defensive player of the year award in each of the last two seasons and he has high expectations for a third one to finish his career. He was mad at himself for missing all three of his shot attempts but he said it was easier to deal with after a win like that.

“I work hard for that,” Hughley said. “I love playing defense. If my offense isn’t working, I know I’m going to make it up on defense.”

After scoring just five points in the opening quarter, Auburn (2-1) started to slow the game down to try to get Tallassee out of rhythm in order to find some easy looks at the basket. Auburn even started holding the ball near midcourt to limit possessions in the second and fourth quarters.

“It can get frustrating,” Hughley said. “They’re just holding the ball and trying to waste some time. We just have to stay together and work as a team. We had to stay focused.”

Tallassee held Auburn to its lowest point total as Tallassee used a man-to-man defense and quick rotation help to force tough shots and turnovers throughout the night. Mixson said he had no doubt Hughley could handle the quickness of Auburn’s guards and the rest of the team followed in his footsteps.

“That says a lot about us,” Mixson said. “If this game doesn’t give us confidence, being able to play man-to-man defense against a (Class) 7A school, I don’t know what will. We are a physical team and we love playing man defense.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.