From Staff Reports
In a do-or-die game, the Unicoi County High School boys varsity basketball team (15-11) did.
The Blue Devils faced Cumberland Gap in the opening game of the Region 1-AA tournament in Erwin on Saturday, Feb. 25, and earned a commanding 69-51 victory to advance to the tournament semifinals on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at UCHS.
“It feels good to get a win in the region tournament,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said. “I’m proud of our guys for stepping up in a big game and getting a win.”
Ten first-quarter points by junior guard Trevor Hensley and 5 by junior post Troy Podvin sparked UCHS to a 15-6 lead going into the second quarter on Saturday. Two 3-pointers by Hensley and 4 points by junior post Clay Simpson gave the Blue Devils a commanding 25-10 lead with just over 4 minutes to play in the half. The teams played almost even basketball the rest of the half and UCHS took a 39-25 lead into the break.
The Blue Devils’ lead reached 18 points, 47-29, following a basket by senior Dylan Putman. UCHS then appeared to go into cruise control, allowing Cumberland Gap to make a run and get back into the game.
“Cumberland Gap is a very scrappy team,” Smith said. “I thought they outplayed us in the second half, but we were able to maintain a decent lead until the fourth quarter.”
Trailing by 12, 53-41, at the start of the fourth, Cumberland Gap then went on a 10-4 run, cutting the deficit to a manageable 6 points, 57-51 with 5 minutes to play.
The Blue Devils then turned the tide and closed the game on a 12-0 run to win 69-51.
Trevor Hensley scored 26 points (2 3-pointers) to go along with 7 rebounds and 3 assists to lead UCHS. Troy Podvin just missed out on a double-double with 17 points (3 3-pointers) and 9 rebounds. Dylan Putman scored 13 points (1 3-pointer) and had 4 rebounds. Clay Simpson scored 8 and had 7 rebounds. Chase McNabb scored 4 points (1 3-pointer). Michael Howell scored 1 point and had 6 rebounds.
• • •
A district title slipped out of the hands of the Blue Devils in Erwin on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
Leading 55-49 with less than two minutes to play, UCHS saw East go to the free throw line 10 times, making 9, during that stretch to stun the home-standing Blue Devils and win the championship game, 58-57.
“I thought we played well defensively and held their two best scorers below their scoring averages,” Smith said of his team’s overall effort. “We did a good job on that end of the floor.”
Things began to unravel for UCHS following a technical foul call against the Blue Devils with the score at 55-49 with 1:34 to play. The Patriots converted 1 of the technical free throws and hit 2 personal foul free throws for a 55-52 UCHS lead. On their ensuing possession, Patriot Cole Green was fouled and converted 2 more free throws for a 55-54 score.
The Blue Devils got the ball to Hensley on their next possession. Hensley was fouled with 32 seconds to play and made both free throws for a 57-54 Blue Devil lead. Patriot Gavin Grubb was fouled with 21 seconds to play and hit both free throws, giving UCHS the ball up 57-56.
The Blue Devils then missed the front end of the one-and-one opportunity. East rushed the ball down the court, but missed on a shot attempt. The ball bounced out of bounds and was given to the Patriots under their basket with 3.2 seconds to play.
Before the ball was inbounded, a foul was called against the Blue Devils, sending Micah Ellison to the line for 2 free throws, which he converted, putting his team ahead 58-57.
Because the foul on Ellison was called before the ball was inbounded, the Blue Devils had 3.2 seconds to go the length of the floor to score. They quickly threw it into Putman who dribbled up the left side of the floor and let a shot fly from near halfcourt. The shot had a chance to go in, but bounced off the back of the rim and East held on for the win.
“Dylan makes shots like that all the time in practice and has hit them in games,” Smith said. “I thought the one he shot at the buzzer was going in. It looked good.”
Podvin led the Blue Devils with 20 points (1 3-pointer) and 6 rebounds. Hensley scored 11 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and dished out 5 assists. Putman scored 10 points (2 3-pointers). Simpson scored 6 and had 5 rebounds. McNabb scored 6 (2 3-pointers) and Brett Strother scored 4.
Following the championship game, Podvin, Hensley and Putman were named to the all-tournament team.
Their second-place finish in the district setup the Blue Devils’ opening round matchup with Cumberland Gap on Feb. 25.