From Staff Reports
The Unicoi County High School boys varsity basketball team (8-4, 1-1) found themselves down by as many as 16 points in the first half against Science Hill, but bounced back to force overtime on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
“We could have let ourselves get beat by 20,” head coach Michael Smith said. “Instead, we really fought hard, got some defensive stops and made some baskets to get back in the game.”
The two teams faced off on Nov. 29 in Johnson City with the Hilltoppers taking control of the game in the second half on their way to a 62-55 victory.
After falling behind 7-2 in the first quarter of the Dec. 13 contest, baskets by Clay Simpson, Dylan Putman and Trevor Hensley gave UCHS a 10-8 lead – their final one until the opening seconds of overtime.
From there, Science Hill used its defensive pressure to force the Blue Devils into turnovers, which the Hilltoppers then converted to baskets. Science Hill led 13-10 at the end of the first quarter, but expanded that lead to 12 points, 22-10, in the opening minutes of the second frame. Smith called a timeout to slow the run, but this was unsuccessful as the Hilltoppers kept forcing turnovers and converting those into points, eventually taking a 34-18 lead.
“We didn’t take care of the ball in the first half and that allowed them to get out to that big lead,” Smith said. “Turnovers really hurt us and we missed some open shots that we should have made. Science Hill did a good job rebounding and limiting us to one shot.”
The Blue Devils were able to get the deficit to a more manageable 12 points, 36-24, at the half.
“We challenged our players to get after it in the second half,” Smith said, “and they did.”
UCHS began chipping away at the Hilltoppers’ lead in the third quarter. Simpson hit two free throws and Chase McNabb hit a 3-pointer to start the Blue Devils on a 5-2 run to cut the lead to single digits, 38-29. Science Hill responded with a run of their own to get the lead back to 15 points, 44-29.
Again, the Blue Devils wouldn’t go away and they closed the quarter on a 10-3 run on 6 points by Hensley and 4 by Jacob Smith. Science Hill held a 47-39 lead at the end of the third.
“Our guys knew they had to stop allowing the other team do what they wanted to do if we were going to take the lead,” Smith said. “We came out in the fourth and did a lot of good things. We made some shots we had been missing and did a much better job taking care of the ball.”
Hensley and Smith again led UCHS on another run in the fourth, this time an 8-0 run, to tie the game at 47 with just under 5 minutes to play.
The teams traded turnovers on their next possessions before Science Hill’s Nate Jackson scored with under 3 minutes to play to give his team the lead again. This lead didn’t last long, as Putman tied the game with 2 minutes to play.
Neither the Blue Devils nor the Hilltoppers got on the scoreboard again in regulation and the game went to overtime.
Smith grabbed an offensive rebound in the extra frame and scored to put UCHS ahead 51-49. Science Hill responded with a score to tie the game, then a Blue Devil turnover led to a 3-pointer for Science Hill and gave the Hilltoppers a 54-51 lead.
Simpson hit 3-for-4 from the free throw line to tie the game at 54, but the Hilltoppers responded again to take a 56-54 lead with 1 minute to play. Trailing 57-55 with 12 seconds to play, Hensley rebounded a missed free throw and drove the length of the floor and down the left side of the paint for a layup attempt that was blocked by Bowden Lyon. Science Hill then hit two free throws to win the game 59-55.
“Bowden made a great play at the end,” Smith said. “Both teams had players make plays when they needed to throughout the game.”
Hensley scored 13 points to go along with 4 assists and 4 steals. Simpson scored 11 and had 8 rebounds. Putman scored 10. Smith scored 9 and grabbed 10 rebounds. Troy Podvin scored 7 and had 6 rebounds. McNabb scored 5 (1 3-pointer) and had 4 rebounds.
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The Blue Devils return to action today (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 also play in the tournament on Dec. 29 and 30; game times will depend on the results of the previous games.
UCHS returns to Three Rivers Conference play on Tuesday, Jan. 3 when they host Johnson County. They will travel to Sullivan North on Friday, Jan. 6, and to Elizabethton on Tuesday, Jan. 10. All Blue Devil varsity games are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.; the junior varsity will play at 5 p.m. on those days.