By Trey Williams
Unicoi County High School boys’ basketball coach John Good didn’t need to deliver a fiery pregame speech for Friday’s game at Chuckey-Doak.
His Blue Devils (0-2, 8-9) relinquished a 29-point lead in the second half of a surreal, last-second loss to the Black Knights last month in Erwin, and no one’s memory needed to be jarred.
“His pregame speech was pretty much fixing it in practice,” senior guard Brett Lingerfelt said. “He preached for days that we needed to lessen our turnovers. It (the loss) was pretty self-fueled. That was motivation enough – to blow such a lead. We couldn’t not win this game.”
And not win they didn’t. Lingerfelt tallied 11 points, six assists and no turnovers while helping the Blue Devils salvage a home-and-home split with a 65-55 victory. The teams’ first meeting this season, you might say, left Unicoi County in a foul mood.
“In our loss to Chuckey-Doak earlier in the season, in the fourth quarter we were 6-for-16 from the free throw line,” Good said. “Friday night (at Chuckey-Doak) we were 12-for-13 in the fourth. … (Lingerfelt) had no turnovers, six assists, and is shooting the ‘three’ and free throws well.”
The Blue Devils’ balanced attack included 19 points from junior guard Brock Thompson and 13 points and nine rebounds from freshman post Lucas Slagle, whose upside continues to excite teammates.
“Freshman Lucas Slagle has stepped up big,” Lingerfelt said. “He’s always going at it on rebounds, hustling shooting lay-ups, and-ones.”
Senior 6-foot-6 post Nicholas Lynch also buoyed the interior presence at Chuckey-Doak.
“He had some big rebounds and blocks that helped us out,” Lingerfelt said.
Caleb Adkins scored 13 points during the victory in Afton.
“It’s a new program and it’s definitely a growing year, but we’ve got a lot of options to play with,” Lingerfelt said. “Our bench is pretty deep. Everybody’s contributing in some ways. Phoenix Holt is always ready to go. He gives 110 percent effort in everything he does. Jordan Bridges is a junior, and he’s stepped up big in the last couple of games. He’s knocked down some shots, been ready to go. He plays amazing defense. Our bench goes deep. Bryson Peterson has stepped up and handled the ball to open up more guys. …
“As the year goes on we’re starting to jibe more as a team and as the team starts to come together it just gets easier to play comfortably and do well.”
Unicoi County was scheduled to visit Sullivan East on Tuesday, Jan. 7. The Blue Devils brought the Patriots’ season to a stunning end with a District 1-AA tournament upset last year under then-head coach Michael Smith, who is now on Good’s staff and continues to be the athletic director. Thompson and Lingerfelt scored 29 and 14 points, respectively, in the upset of East, which had completed a sweep of Unicoi two weeks earlier with a 74-41 victory.
The Blue Devils will certainly get the Patriots’ best shot – and wouldn’t want it any other way.
“It’s like Coach Smith says, ‘All games are big, but conference games are really big,’” Lingerfelt said.
After jumping back into the conference fire at East, the Blue Devils will host Elizabethton on Friday, Jan. 10. That’ll be the second straight Friday during which Good won’t necessarily need a win-one-for-the-Gipper pep talk.
“Unicoi and Elizabethton – that’s something both teams are always wanting to win,” Lingerfelt said. “That’s motivation enough – just them being them. We’re looking forward to it.”
The Cyclones are without point guard Bryson Rollins, who is expected to miss the season due to a knee injury sustained while helping the Cyclones win a state title in football. Talented junior guard Parker Hughes’ status is also iffy due to an ankle injury suffered during football.
That said, lanky forward Nico Ashley and shooting guard Jake Roberts make Lucas Honeycutt’s Cyclones a handful.
“Elizabethton is right up there with (Sullivan) South when they have all their players,” Good said. “A lot of guys that can go for big numbers. Well-coached and play together.”
UCHS is also scheduled to host conference foe Sullivan Central on Tuesday, Jan. 14. Junior varsity games are set to begin at 5 p.m. with the varsity team playing at 8 p.m.