From Staff Reports
The Unicoi County High School boys basketball team found themselves on the losing end of a fast-paced, non-conference game in Carter County on Tuesday, Dec. 19.
Both the Blue Devils and the Cloudland Highlanders were off to the races from the opening tip as each team took advantage of transition opportunities that resulted in a 20-19 lead for the home team.
Following a basket by the Highlanders at the start of the second quarter, two free throws by Austin O’Dell and a three-pointer by Trevor Hensley gave UCHS a 24-22 lead. The game was tied at 31 with just over 3 minutes to play in the half. Then foul trouble for the Blue Devils began to turn the game in Cloudland’s favor.
Two free throws by Hensley gave the Blue Devils a 35-34 lead with just over 2 minutes to go in the second. With UCHS going deep into its bench, the Highlanders were able to go on a 7-4 run to take a 41-39 lead at halftime.
Another basket by O’Dell and a three-pointer by Hensley kept the Blue Devils within a few points of the Highlanders during the first few minutes of the third quarter, but the pace of the game began to wear on UCHS. Following a free throw by Blue Devil Brett Strother, which made the score 47-45 in favor of Cloudland, the Highlanders went on a 10-0 run and took control of the game.
Hensley then scored 5 consecutive points and Brock Thompson scored 2 for a 57-50 score. Cloudland again responded with a 4-0 run before Thompson hit a three-pointer as the third came to an end. The Highlanders held a 61-55 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils then went cold from the field at the wrong time.
“We really struggled shooting the ball in the second half,” Smith said. “We also gave up some offensive rebounds and Cloudland capitalized on those to extend their lead.”
UCHS went scoreless for more than 2 minutes at the start of the quarter before Thompson scored. The team would not score again, this time on a basket by Danny Lowery, until there was 2:30 to play in the game. By that time, the Highlanders held a 74-59 lead.
The Blue Devils could not make a final run as the final minutes ticked off the clock. Cloudland won the game 77-63. UCHS shot a poor 36 percent from the field and had 19 turnovers in the loss.
“The pace of the game bothered us a little,” Smith said. “We played with only eight guys and we got in foul trouble, too. Cloudland is a tough place to play. They have a good team and they always come out ready to play. ”
Hensley led the team in scoring with 25 points. He also had 6 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 assists. Thompson had 12 points and 5 rebounds. O’Dell was one rebound short of a double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds. Lowery had 8 points and 8 rebounds. Strother scored 3 and had 5 rebounds. Gavin Casey and Ty Thelen scored 2 points each. Caleb Adkins scored 1.
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The Blue Devils traveled to Cleveland, Tennessee, for a tournament being played from Wednesday, Dec. 27, through Friday, Dec. 29. UCHS plays its first game at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday against Clarksville Northeast, a AAA school from Middle Tennessee..
With a win, the Blue Devils will play either Cleveland or Sequoyah on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. With a loss, they will play on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Friday’s game time and opponent will be determined by Thursday’s results.
“We are looking forward to playing in the tournament,” Smith said. “We will be playing some very athletic teams – the type of teams we will have to face to advance through the postseason. This should be a very good learning experience for our guys.”
The Blue Devils will face Science Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 2, at the Devils’ Den in Erwin. The team will start a stretch of important Three Rivers Conference contests on Friday, Jan. 5, at home against Sullivan East. The junior varsity team is scheduled to play at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 2 and Jan. 5; the varsity team is scheduled to play at 8 p.m. on those days.