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Despite rally, Devils lose to Bulldogs

Clay Simpson grabs one of his 12 rebounds against Sullivan South. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County High School boys basketball team (7-2, 2-0) overcame a double-digit deficit to take a lead, but couldn’t hang on as they fell to Hampton on Monday, Dec. 11, in Erwin.

“We didn’t get after it defensively like we needed to,” head coach Michael Smith said of Monday’s game. “Hampton came in and wanted it more than we did. We got out hustled all night.”

A basket by Trevor Hensley at the start of the second quarter gave the Blue Devils a 19-16 lead. This would be the last time they would be ahead until the fourth quarter. Hampton then scored 8 unanswered points to lead 24-19 with 6 minutes to play in the half. A three-point play by Clay Simpson cut the lead to 2 points, but the Bulldogs immediately responded with a three-pointer by Jonah Jones. Danny Lowery then scored for UCHS for a 27-24 score with 4 minutes to play. Hampton closed the quarter on a 13-5 run to lead 40-29 at halftime.

The Blue Devils began to chip away at the Bulldogs’ lead in the third quarter. Hensley scored 6 points in the opening minutes. Troy Podvin and Clay Simpson also got going in the quarter as UCHS cut the lead to single digits, 52-48, with seconds to play in the frame. Jones then answered with another three-pointer to give his team a more comfortable 7-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

Eight unanswered points by the Blue Devils – thanks to three-pointers by Hensley and Brock Thompson and a bucket by Podvin – in the first 2 minutes of the quarter gave UCHS its first lead since early in the second quarter.

“During that stretch we had a little sense of urgency and had better effort,” Smith said. “We made the easy plays and made some shots.”

Following a timeout by Hampton, Hunter Davenport scored to put the Bulldogs ahead again, but Podvin then answered with a basket and the Blue Devils led 58-57. It would be their last lead of the game.

Hampton then went on a 6-1 run to regain momentum and lead 63-59 with just over 3 minutes to play. Podvin then grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a putback to bring the Blue Devils within 2 points, 63-61.

Hampton’s Dru Owens scored, then Simpson converted a three-point play for a 65-64 score with 3 minutes to play. The Bulldogs then went on a 6-0 run to lead 71-64 with 50 seconds to play. A basket by Podvin gave the Blue Devils a chance, but UCHS was forced to foul and the Bulldogs made their free throws to hang on for a 75-68 victory.

Podvin led the team in scoring with 18 points. Simpson had 17. Hensley had 16.

• • •

A young Sullivan South squad kept the game close for almost a quarter before the Blue Devils ran away with it as UCHS defeated the Rebels on the road on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

“I felt like we came in and asserted ourselves early in the game,” Smith said. “We were aggressive and rattled them throughout the first half and kept them from really getting into the game. We played really well.”

Three minutes into the game, the Blue Devils held an 8-2 lead. The Rebels then went on a 7-0 run to take a 9-8 lead. This was short-lived, however, as on the next Blue Devil possession Brett Lingerfelt drained a three-pointer and put UCHS in the lead for good.

Thanks to their half court defensive pressure forcing South into turnovers, the Blue Devils then went on to outscore the Rebels 25-7, including 24 unanswered points, the rest of the first half. UCHS led 36-16 at the break.

“We are long and athletic and can put a lot of pressure on other teams,” Smith said. “We were very active in our half court defense, which led to steals and easy baskets for us. We had a very good effort defensively.”

The Rebels never threatened to get back in the game in the second half as UCHS cruised to a 65-31 win.

Hensley scored 21 points, had 5 assists and 5 steals to lead the Blue Devils over South. Simpson had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Ty Thelen scored 8. Thompson and Podvin each scored 5. Lowery (5 rebounds) and Gavin Casey (6 rebounds) each had 4. Lingerfelt scored 3. Nicholas Hensley and Brett Strother scored 2 points each.

• • •

The Blue Devils traveled to Science Hill to face the Hilltoppers on Tuesday, Dec. 12, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.

They are scheduled to face Johnson County in Mountain City in Three Rivers Conference action on Friday, Dec. 15, and travel to Cloudland for a non-conference matchup on Tuesday, Dec. 19. The junior varsity team is scheduled to play at 5:30 p.m., with the varsity taking to the court at 8 p.m.