Phoenix Holt goes up for a layup against Chuckey-Doak. (Contributed photo by Teresa Parkey)

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County High School boys basketball team came away with a much-needed victory over the weekend.

After falling behind early in the game, the Blue Devils (5-20, 1-10) rallied to reclaim the lead and defeat Chuckey-Doak (11-11), 50-45, on Saturday, Feb. 2 in Erwin.

“We got down early, but we fought back to tie the game by the end of the first,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said. “It was a back-and-forth game the whole way, but we did what we had to do to win it.”

Clutch free throw shooting by Brock Thompson and Brett Lingerfelt in the final minute helped the Blue Devils hold on for the win, which ended the team’s recent losing streak.

“It has taken a lot of pressure off of us,” Smith said of ending the streak. “The guys don’t seem to be playing so tight now. They are playing more loose and free. We had one of our best practices after the win.”

Throughout the streak, the Blue Devils were competitive in most games.

“We have played well in a lot of games,” Smith said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump to get a win. Against Chuckey-Doak we did things down the stretch that we haven’t been doing. We took care of the ball, made shots and free throws. Those things weren’t happening for us before.”

Gavin Casey led the Blue Devils in scoring against the Black Knights with 14 points, all in the second half. Thompson scored 13 (3 three-pointers). Ty Thelen scored 5 (1 three-pointer). Danny Lowery scored 4. Phoenix Holt and Caleb Adkins each scored 3 points.

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The Blue Devils gave conference-leading Elizabethton all they could handle, but turnovers in the final minutes of the game allowed the Cyclones (18-5) to escape with a victory.

“We shot the ball well and played well against the top team in the league standings on their floor,” Smith said.

The Blue Devils raced out to a 13-9 lead, then closed the first quarter on a 7-2 run to lead 20-11 after one. The Cyclones responded in the second quarter, outscoring UCHS 21-12 for a 32-32 tie at halftime.

They played better than us in the second quarter,” Smith said.

In the third quarter, the Cyclones again outscored the Blue Devils and held a 49-44 lead going into the final eight minutes of play.

“We were down five going into the fourth quarter and in a good spot against one of the three best teams in the league,” Smith said.

A bucket by Casey and a three-pointer by Thompson, both of which were assisted by Thelen, tied the game at 49. The teams traded buckets, including one by Casey, for another tie at 51. A three-pointer by the Cyclones put them up 54-51 before Thelen scored for a 54-53 score.

Elizabethton then scored 4 unanswered points before Casey scored again. Following a timeout by Smith with just over 4 minutes to play in the game, Elizabethton scored again and held a 60-55 lead.

Casey scored 2 more points and the Blue Devil defense kept the Cyclones from scoring. On the next UCHS possession, Austin O’Dell grabbed an offensive rebound and the ball found its way to Lingerfelt. The junior drove through the lane, hit a floater and was fouled. The three-point play tied the game at 60 with just over 2 minutes to play.

The Cyclones then scored and called a timeout with a 62-60 lead. Then, three turnovers in the final minutes gave Elizabethton the possessions they needed to hold on for a 70-65 victory.

“Untimely turnovers have been hard on us all season long,” Smith said.

Thompson scored 19 points (5 three-pointers) in the loss. Casey had 18 points and 4 rebounds. Robbie O’Dell had 11 points (2 three-pointers). Thelen had 7 points (1 three-pointer). Lingerfelt had 6 points (1 three-pointer) and 6 assists. Lowery had 2 points and 6 rebounds. Austin O’Dell and 2 points and 9 rebounds.

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The Blue Devils are currently in last place in the conference standings. Elizabethton sits at the top of the league with a 10-1 record. Johnson County is second at 9-2. Sullivan South and Sullivan East are both 5-5. Sullivan Central is fifth at 4-6. Happy Valley is sixth at 2-8.

The Blue Devils played their final conference game of the season on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at Sullivan Central.

They are scheduled to host non-conference opponents David Crockett on Friday, Feb. 8, and Cloudland on Saturday, Feb. 9. Prior to the start of the varsity game on Saturday, the program will honor its senior members. Varsity games are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.