From Staff Reports
In close games a few bad minutes of play can be the difference between winning and losing.
The Unicoi County High School boys varsity basketball team (8-3, 1-1) learned this lesson the hard way last week.
Facing Three Rivers Conference rival the Sullivan East Patriots on Friday, Dec. 9, the Blue Devils saw a 23-22 lead turn into a 31-25 deficit in the final 2 minutes of the first half.
“We had a couple turnovers against their press and gave them 4 easy points that really fueled their 9-2 run in the last 2 minutes of the half,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said.
The Blue Devils got off to a quick start to open the game against the visiting Patriots, taking a 10-2 lead, in the opening minutes. A timeout by East coach John Dyer helped stop the run by UCHS and refocused his team.
“They started making shots after that timeout that they weren’t making early in the game,” Smith said. “They upped their intensity and level of play as well. When they did that we didn’t step up and match that intensity.”
The combination of East’s improved shooting and turnovers by the Blue Devils led to the Patriots’ first half run.
In the second half, the teams played even basketball.
“It wasn’t a bad half by either team,” Smith said. “It was a well-played half. Unfortunately, in the second quarter we had put ourselves in a hole we couldn’t climb out of.”
The Blue Devils cut 2 points off East’s lead in the third quarter and trailed 42-38 going into the final quarter.
Both teams scored 14 points in the fourth quarter with UCHS cutting the lead to 2 points, 50-48, with less than 2 minutes to play; however, East went 10-17 from the free throw line in the frame to seal the 56-52 win.
Dylan Putman led the Blue Devils with 17 points (3 3-pointers). Trevor Hensley scored 14 (2 3-pointers and had 4 assists. Clay Simpson scored 9 points and had 4 rebounds. Jacob Smith scored 5 with 7 rebounds. Troy Podvin scored 4 and had 10 rebounds. Chase McNabb scored 3 (1 3-pointer) and had 4 rebounds.
• • •
“We knew it would be a tough game,” Smith said of facing the Hampton Bulldogs for the second time this season. “They are a well-coached team and very talented.”
The Blue Devils welcomed the Bulldogs to Erwin on Saturday, Dec. 10. They had defeated Hampton in the opening round of the Hardee’s Classic last month.
The Bulldogs came out of the gate with revenge on their minds, taking a 9-5 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“We weren’t making shots,” Smith said. “We had some good looks, but missed them. Hampton did a good job of finding Wyatt Lyons in that quarter.”
Lyons outscored the Blue Devils in the first quarter, posting 6 points for his team.
The second quarter was a different story. The UCHS offense started rolling, thanks to 6 points from McNabb and 5 from Podvin as the team outscored Hampton by 10 points.
“Throughout the season both of those guys have scored important points for us,” Smith said of McNabb and Podvin.
The Blue Devils held a 22-16 lead at halftime.
The third quarter was a back-and-forth battle, as Lyons scored 7 points to pace the Bulldogs.
“Again, they did a good job getting the ball where he could score and he did a good job,” Smith said.
It was Hensley and Smith’s turn to lead the UCHS offense in this quarter, as they scored 7 and 4 points respectively. The Blue Devils took a 33-28 lead into the fourth.
Hampton kept the game close in the first part of the fourth quarter before the Blue Devils went on a run thanks to 3 3-pointers – 2 by Putman and 1 by Hensley – to take a 44-34 lead with just over 3 minutes to play. The Blue Devils scored 16 points in the fourth – 9 by Putman and 7 by Hensley.
“We made some big shots in the fourth,” Smith said. “We also made Hampton take some tough shots by being active in our zone defense.”
Hensley led UCHS in scoring with 18 points (1 3-pointer) and 4 assists. Putman scored 11 (2 3-pointers). McNabb scored 6 (2 3-pointers) and had 5 rebounds. Simpson had 5 points and 6 rebounds. Podvin had 5 points and 10 rebounds. Smith had 4 points and 7 rebounds.
“After losing a conference game on Friday, we did a good job of bouncing back to get a win on Saturday against a good Hampton team,” Smith said. “I am proud of our effort to come back the day after a tough conference loss and get a good win.”
• • •
The Blue Devils looked to avenge an earlier loss to Science Hill in Erwin on Tuesday, Dec. 13, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
The team will return to action on Wednesday, Dec. 28, when they face Knox Powell at 1 p.m. in the Super 16 Tournament being played at Knox Bearden High School. They will play on Dec. 29 and 30; game times will depend on the results of the previous games.
The Blue Devils return to the Devils’ Den and conference play on Jan. 3 when they host Johnson County.