From Staff Reports
To say the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team (19-11) was lucky to advance to the District 1-AA title game would be an understatement.
Playing the Elizabethton Cyclones (8-20) in Elizabethton in the semifinal round of the District 1-AA tournament on Saturday, Feb. 17, the Blue Devils found themselves with a double-digit deficit for most of the first half and at the start of the fourth quarter.
“Not playing for almost a week really contributed to our slow start,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith said. “Elizabethton shot the ball well in the first half and we struggled offensively.”
Following a 5-5 tie in the first quarter, the Cyclones went on a 17-2 run to take a 22-7 lead at the end of the frame.
Things continued to go in favor of the Cyclones in the second quarter as their lead reached 18 points, 32-14.
“They hit shots early and we didn’t and our guys got a little panicked,” Smith said. “We told them to keep playing hard, stay calm and start to chip away at the lead.”
The Blue Devils did just that. By halftime Elizabethton’s lead was a more manageable 9 points, 34-25.
In the third quarter UCHS cut the lead to 4 points on a few occasions, but each time the Cyclones responded with a run to go up by a more comfortable margin again. Elizabethton led 54-43 at the end of the third.
The Blue Devils continued to chip away at the lead in the fourth, but found themselves down by 6 points, 64-59, with one minute to play. Brock Thompson then hit a three-pointer for a 64-62 score.
UCHS fouled the Cyclones on several occasions in the final minute, but they would miss those and kept the door open for the Blue Devils. Their full-court press also shook up the Cyclones and led to a turnover that gave UCHS the ball under their own basket with 12.8 seconds to play.
The ball came into Troy Podvin who went up in the lane and was fouled. The senior then hit both free throws to tie the game and send it to overtime.
The Blue Devils took their first lead of the game on a three-pointer by Podvin in the opening seconds of the overtime period. UCHS outscored the Cyclones 10-2 in overtime to earn a hard fought 74-66 victory.
“We had a lot better energy in the last part of the fourth quarter and in the overtime,” Smith said. “Our guys gave a great effort and never gave up.”
Podvin had a double-double with 25 points and 17 rebounds. Hensley scored 20 and had 4 assists. Thompson, Gavin Casey and Brett Lingerfelt each scored 9. Danny Lowery scored 2.
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UCHS played for a district title on Tuesday, Feb. 20, against Johnson County after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.
Win or lose that game, the Blue Devils will still host their first game of the Region 1-AA tournament in Erwin on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. Their opponent will be either Greeneville or Chuckey-Doak.
A loss on Saturday will end the season for Smith’s squad. A win will advance them to the region semifinals which will be played at Chuckey-Doak High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at either 6 or 7:30 p.m.