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Blue Devils win conference opener

Dylan Putman fights for a loose ball with a Sullivan South player last week. Putman scored 15 points in the 55-48 victory. Last week saw the Blue Devils fall to Science Hill and defeat South before beating Cloudland on Monday, Dec. 5. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)
Dylan Putman fights for a loose ball with a Sullivan South player last week. Putman scored 15 points in the 55-48 victory. Last week saw the Blue Devils fall to Science Hill and defeat South before beating Cloudland on Monday, Dec. 5. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County High School boys varsity basketball team survived a subpar first half effort to win its Three Rivers Conference opener last week.

Playing at Sullivan South, the Blue Devils (7-2, 1-0) found themselves down by 8 points, 29-21.

“We didn’t play hard early against South,” head coach Michael Smith said. “We let them do whatever they wanted to do. We weren’t active defensively at all in the first half.”

The lack of defensive intensity by the Blue Devils helped the Rebels shoot 50 percent from 3-point range (6-for-12) in the first half.

“I think we just came into that game – and you can’t do this – thinking by just showing up we were going to win and that they weren’t good enough to beat us,” Smith also said. “You do that to anybody, they are going to have a chance to beat you. South came in and had a lot of energy and played well and fully expected to beat us.”

At the break, the Blue Devils adjusted their attitudes and their defense, switching to man-to-man for the second half, according to Smith.

“We started to cover their shooters better and we were much more active, both offensively and defensively,” Smith said of his team’s second half performance.

UCHS started the third quarter on a 5-0, cutting the lead to 3 points, 29-26, within the first 2 minutes. Baskets by Dylan Putman, Jacob Smith and two by Chase McNabb put the Blue Devils up 34-33, a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game. Putman scored 6 points during the final 2 minutes of the quarter and the Devils held a 42-36 lead going into the last quarter.

Putman opened the fourth with a 3-pointer, followed by a 2-pointer by Trevor Hensley, giving UCHS a double-digit lead, 47-37. The lead reached 13 points, but two 3-pointers by South late in the fourth helped cut the Blue Devil lead to single digits; however, Smith’s team managed to hold on for the 55-48 victory.

Hensley scored 24 points (2 3-pointers) with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Putman scored 15 points (1 3-pointer). McNabb and Clay Simpson each scored 6. Michael Howell scored 2 points. Jacob Smith scored 2 points and had 10 rebounds.

• • •

A run in the third quarter by the Science Hill Hilltoppers propelled them to a 62-55 victory over UCHS in Johnson City on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

“I felt like we played pretty well overall against Science Hill,” Smith said. “We came ready to play. We knew they are a good team.”

The first half was a close one between the teams, with UCHS taking a 17-16 lead after the first 8 minutes, thanks, in part, to 7 points by Putman and 6 by Clay Simpson. The Hilltoppers outscored the Blue Devils by 2 points in the second quarter to take a 35-34 lead into halftime.

Unfortunately for UCHS, they found themselves unable to keep up with the Hilltoppers during a brief stretch in the third quarter.

“I felt like their athletes and their depth wore us down,” Smith said. “We got tired in the second half and they were able to make a run and take a solid lead.”

Science Hill’s lead reached double digits in the third quarter, but the Blue Devils were able to cut it back to single digits, 51-44, by the end of the frame.

Smith’s crew didn’t go down without a fight. The Blue Devils went on a 7-2 run in the final quarter, cutting the lead to 2 points, 53-51, with around 2 minutes to play.

“There wasn’t much scoring late in the game,” Smith said. “It was a defensive battle.

“When we made our run to get back into the game, it was just too much. It took a lot of effort to get there. We did a lot of good things during that time and played better defense in that stretch. … We had chances to take the lead during the fourth, but they played good defense. We cut the lead to 2 points, then they get a basket to put the lead back to 5 points. They did what they had to do to win.”

Putman led the Blue Devils in scoring with 17 points (1 3-pointer); he also had 5 assists. Simpson scored 13 points (2 3 pointers) and had 9 rebounds. Smith scored 7 and had 9 rebounds. Troy Podvin scored 7 (2 3-pointers). Hensley scored 6 and had 7 assists. Howell scored 3 (1 3-pointer).

• • •

The Blue Devils opened this week with a 56-46 victory over a pesky Cloudland Highlander team on Monday, Dec. 5, in Erwin.

UCHS took a commanding lead early in the game, leading 21-7 at the end of the first quarter and a 29-17 lead into halftime. The third quarter saw the Blue Devils’ lead reach 17 points, 34-17, before the Highlanders went on a run to cut the lead to 3 points. However, the Blue Devils managed to hold onto the lead for the final margin of victory.

Hensley scored 19 points with 6 assists and 4 steals.

Putman scored 14 (3 3-pointers) and grabbed 5 rebounds. Smith scored 10 and had 8 rebounds. Simpson scored 6 with 6 rebounds. Podvin scored 6.

• • •

UCHS returns to Three Rivers Conference play against the rival Sullivan East Patriots on Friday, Dec. 9, at 8 p.m. in Erwin.

“It’s a huge game,” Smith said of the upcoming contest with the Patriots. “East won the league last year. I don’t think we will take them lightly. They will come ready to play, for sure. Coach (John) Dyer does a great job with his team. It should be a good battle.”

The Blue Devils will face Hampton on Saturday, Dec. 10, also in Erwin at 8 p.m. UCHS defeated Hampton, 57-48, in the Hardee’s Classic on Nov. 22.

UCHS will have a chance to avenge the loss to Science Hill when the Hilltoppers come to Erwin on Tuesday, Dec. 13; tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.