By Trey Williams
The Unicoi County High School boys basketball team is paying a steep rate for free throws.
The Blue Devils squandered a stingy defensive showing by going 6-for-20 at the foul line in a 42-41 loss to Sullivan East on Friday, Jan. 31, in the Devils Den.
Unicoi fell to 4-5 in the Three Rivers Conference and 13-12 overall.
“We guarded ‘em,” Unicoi County coach John Good said. “We played good defense. … They were 10-for-17 at the foul line and we were 6-for-20. You can’t blame it on anything else.”
Senior guard Brett Lingerfelt scored all 12 of his points from 3-point range and nearly made a fifth trey at the buzzer after getting an inbounds pass with four-tenths of a second remaining. The inbound options included junior guard Brock Thompson in the corner and freshman post Lucas Slagle slipping toward the basket.
“The good thing is we executed it,” Good said.
Lingerfelt didn’t pull the string on it. The shot just didn’t fall. He finished 4 of 11 from behind the arc.
“I’ve gotta get on him, because I think he should shoot more,” Good said. “Every time he shoots it, it looks like it’s going in. Obviously, every one doesn’t go, but he’s shooting 38 percent from ‘three.’”
Lingerfelt also had seven rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. He’s averaging 10.3 points per game this season.
Lingerfelt noted the Devils’ determined defense against a potent East offense propelled by powerful sophomore guard Dylan Bartley (22 points).
“It was a team effort (on defense),” Lingerfelt said. “We had all kinds of guys (contribute). Lucas Slagle and Nick Lynch were just being a big, dominating presence in the post. That’s always – for lack of better words, they’re big for us. And Jordan Bridges is a great on-ball defender. He just tracks his man.”
Bartley is tough to defend – and officiate. He was 10 of 14 at the foul line.
“He’s got a good first step,” Lingerfelt said, “and once he gets by you, he gets you on that hip and he’s just really good at selling what he needs to sell, but still being able to go up strong with it.”
Four of the Blue Devils’ five league losses were by single-digit margins. Two to East and one at Sullivan South came by a combined seven points. They were 6 of 20 at the foul line in a loss to Happy Valley and 2 of 7 in the fourth quarter of the previous loss to East.
“That’s what it all boils down to,” Lingerfelt said. “Friday night’s a perfect example of how three or four ballgames could’ve been changed. We missed free throw after free throw after free throw, and Bartley was big for them, because he hit his.”
Not that Unicoi has any interest in moral victories at this point, but confidence has been gained in tough losses of late to what could be District 1-AA’s top two tournament seeds. The tournament will be at East, where Unicoi lost 65-63 on Jan. 7.
“Absolutely (we’re confident),” Lingerfelt said. “And the last couple of years we’ve been known to pull some upsets and make good runs going deep into the tournament. So we’re not too worried about tournament time.”
Indeed, Lingerfelt was focused on Friday, Feb. 7, at Johnson County. Shutting down Lucas Phillips is one of the keys to slowing Austin Atwood’s Longhorns during a rebuilding season.
“They are such a well-coached team that it’s hard to pick any one player to check,” Lingerfelt said. “He’s probably their best player, and one we’ll have our eye on.”
Slagle finished with nine points and 17 rebounds against East. Retiring Patriots coach John Dyer was recognized and presented a painting of Sullivan East’s Dyer Dome gymnasium, which was done by UCHS art teacher Annette Tipton.
The Blue Devils were scheduled to play at Elizabethton on Tuesday, Feb. 4. That game has been moved to Wednesday, Feb. 12.
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UCHS will recognize four of its own legends on Tuesday, Feb. 11, when it hosts Sullivan Central. Amy Engle Shulman, Andy Baxter, Dustin Phillips and Logan Lyle will all be honored.