From Staff Reports
A chance for a victory just slipped out of the hands of the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team last week.
After fighting back from a double-digit deficit to reclaim the lead, turnovers in the final seconds doomed the Blue Devils (4-19, 1-9) against the Sullivan South Rebels on Tuesday, Jan. 22, in Three Rivers Conference play.
“We were disappointed in that loss,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said. “We had 25 turnovers in that games, including 4 in the last minute or so.”
Thanks to two baskets by Danny Lowery and one by Austin O’Dell, the Blue Devils were tied, 6-6, with the Rebels in the first quarter of last week’s game. South then closed the opening quarter on a 14-3 run to lead 20-9 at the end of the first quarter.
Blue Devil Brett Lingerfelt opened the second quarter with a three-pointer, but the Rebels answered with a three-pointer of their own for a 23-12 lead. Then, Blue Devil Gavin Casey took control of the game. The senior guard scored 7 unanswered points, then assisted on a three by Robbie O’Dell, bringing the Blue Devils within 1 point, 23-22 with three minutes to play in the half.
The Rebels fought back to take a 30-24 lead before Blue Devil L.J. Mitchell grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a putback for a 30-26 score at halftime.
“I thought we did a great job getting back in the game,” Smith said. “We started doing a better job defensively and made them take tough shots.”
Lingerfelt, Austin O’Dell, Brock Thompson, Phoenix Holt and Casey all scored in the third quarter; however, the Rebels were able to add to their lead and take a 52-45 lead into the final quarter.
“I felt like we had a chance,” Smith said of going into the fourth quarter at South. “We needed to make some plays on both ends of the floor to get back in the game and have a chance to win.”
Smith’s team did chip away at that lead in the fourth quarter. Following his offensive rebound, a three-point play by Lowery brought the Blue Devils within 1 point, 55-54. Moments later, Austin O’Dell tied the game with a free throw.
South immediately answered with a bucket. Following a timeout by Smith with 2 minutes to play, Lingerfelt drove down the lane and scored on a layup to tie the game again at 57.
The Blue Devils forced a missed shot by the Rebels and Austin O’Dell was fouled on the rebound. He hit both free throws to give UCHS a 59-57 advantage with seconds to play.
Things then went off the rails for the Blue Devils. Two turnovers against South’s full-court pressure led to 4 points for the Rebels and a 61-59 victory.
Casey scored 14 points with 6 rebounds and 4 assists in the loss. Lingerfelt scored 11 points (3 three-pointers) and had 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Austin O’Dell had a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Lowery scored 7. Thompson scored 7 (2 three-pointers) and had 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Holt scored 5. Robbie O’Dell scored 3 (1 three-pointer). Mitchell scored 2.
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Things didn’t get any better for the Blue Devils in the following days as they lost by double figures to conference rivals Johnson County and Sullivan East.
On Friday, Jan. 25, UCHS traveled to Mountain City to face the Longhorns and left with a 79-46 loss. The Blue Devils struggled from the field, particularly from the three-point line – making only 1 of their 16 attempts.
“You can’t take anything away from Johnson County,” Smith said. “They are one of the best teams in our league. They shot the ball very well and probably played one of the best games of the season against us.”
Thompson had 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals in the loss at Johnson County. Casey had 7 points and 4 rebounds. Lingerfelt scored 5 points (1 three-pointer).
On Monday, Jan. 28, the Blue Devils fell to Sullivan East, 74-41, in Erwin.
“They played one of their best games all year against us,” Smith said. “They showed why they were picked at the top of the league in the preseason.”
Thompson scored 21 points in the loss. There were no other UCHS players in double figures.
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The Blue Devils are scheduled to travel to Elizabethton for a conference game on Friday, Feb. 1. They will host Chuckey-Doak in non-conference play on Saturday, Feb. 2.
A trip to conference foe Sullivan Central on Tuesday, Feb. 5, also awaits the Blue Devils. All varsity games are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.