From Staff Reports

For the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team (8-7, 1-1), the road to the state tournament has taken them through Knoxville where the Blue Devils have run into roadblock after roadblock. In recent years, they have seen seasons come to an end in the substate round of the playoffs – one game away from the state tournament – at the hands of such teams as Knox Fulton and Austin East.

Knowing his team could face Knoxville-based competition come postseason time, head coach Michael Smith entered them into the Super 16 Tournament played at Knox Bearden last week.

“We could have played in a tournament with a lower level of competition,” Smith said, “but, I like playing somewhere in Knoxville just to get to play teams with that much athleticism. Those are the teams we have to get through to make it to state. We have struggled with playing the athletes from Knoxville.”

Things didn’t go as well for his team as Smith had hoped, as the Blue Devils lost all three games they played in the tournament.

“We have to use the experience gained from the tournament to help us in our conference games,” Smith said. “I think we will be able to do that.”

The Blue Devils opened the tournament on Wednesday, Dec. 28, against Knox Powell and found themselves trailing 11-0 in the early minutes of the game.

“We got some good looks and missed some shots,” Smith said, “but that doesn’t excuse allowing one player to hit three wide open 3-pointers and to score a layup in transition.”

UCHS wasn’t going to go down without a fight, though. Dylan Putman and Troy Podvin scored 5 points each in the quarter, Clay Simpson scored 4 and Trevor Hensley scored 2 as the Blue Devil defense played better to cut Powell’s lead to 20-16 at the end of the opening frame.

UCHS outscored Powell 14-11 in the second quarter to cut the lead to 1, 31-30 at the half. Trailing 31-21 with minutes to play in the first half, the Blue Devils went on a 9-0 run to close the second quarter.

“We started making shots we had missed early in the game,” Smith said of the run.

Powell’s Jack Richards took over the game in the third quarter, scoring 12 points, including his own 8-0 run to give his team a 39-30 lead. UCHS trailed 50-44 at the end of the third.

“We came out in the fourth quarter and played well,” Smith said. “We didn’t take the lead until there were a few minutes left to play when we took a 60-59 lead. Trevor scored with just over a minute to play on an inbounds play to give us a 62-59 lead.”

That would be the final Blue Devil points of the game, as Powell went on an 8-0 in the final minute to earn the 67-62 victory.

Dylan Putman led the Blue Devils in scoring with 19 points (3 3-pointers). Trevor Hensley scored 16 points (2 3-pointers) and had 8 assists and 6 steals. Clay Simpson had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Troy Podvin scored 7 points (1 3-pointer). Jacob Smith scored 7 and had 5 rebounds.

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The Blue Devils got off to another slow start when they played Knox West on Thursday, Dec. 29, and found themselves facing a 10-2 deficit at the end of the first quarter. Once again, the Blue Devils fought their way back into the game to tie it at 27 during the third quarter.

From there, West went on a 27-13 run to win 54-40.

“I think their pressure and us fighting so hard to get back in it wore us down some,” Smith said.

Hensley scored 12 points to go along with 5 assists and 5 steals. Putman scored 11 (2 3-pointers) and had 4 rebounds. Simpson scored 7, Podvin scored 4, Chase McNabb scored 3 (1 3-pointer), Austin O’Dell scored 2 points and Michael Howell scored 1.

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In their final game of the tournament the Blue Devils faced Knox Carter on Friday, Dec. 30.

“We started strong against Carter, taking a 5-0 lead,” Smith said. “It ended up being a back-and-forth game the rest of the way. We would make plays and take a lead, then they would make plays and take the lead back.”

The Blue Devils held a 9 point lead with around 2 minutes to play. Following a score to cut the lead to 7, Carter’s coach called a timeout in order to set up full court pressure by his team.

“They started pressing and we turned it over,” Smith said. “We also missed some free throws that could have put the game away for us in the fourth quarter.”

The teams ended regulation tied at 66.

Carter continued its run in overtime, outscoring the Blue Devils 15-7 to win 81-73.

“Their pressure took us out of our rhythm in the fourth quarter and that carried over into overtime,” Smith said.

Hensley scored 35 points (4 3-pointers) to lead all scorers against Carter; he also had 6 assists. Putman scored 19 (2 3-pointers) and had 5 assists. Simpson scored 9 points to go along with 7 rebounds. McNabb scored 8 (1 3-pointer) and had 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Podvin scored 2.

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UCHS returned to Three Rivers Conference play on Tuesday, Jan. 3, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline. They faced the Johnson County Longhorns at the Devils’ Den in Erwin.

Next up, they will travel to Sullivan North for a conference game with the Golden Raiders on Friday, Jan. 6. The Blue Devils will travel to Elizabethton on Tuesday, Jan. 10, for another conference game. They will host David Crockett on Friday, Jan. 13, and travel to Cloudland on Saturday, Jan. 14. Varsity action is scheduled for 8 p.m. each evening. The junior varsity team will play at 5 p.m. each evening, except against Crockett when they are scheduled to play at 6:30 p.m.