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Struggles continue for Blue Devils

It was a tale of runs last week for the Blue Devils against the top two teams of the Three Rivers Conference.
The Unicoi County High School boys’ basketball team (12-14, TRC 6-5) was unable to battle back from a 20-point deficit and fell to Sullivan South, 54-44, on Friday, Jan. 30, in Erwin.
The Rebels’ runs in the second half were the deciding factor in the game, Blue Devil head coach John English said.
“We come out and gave up a 14-1 run and go down 20,” he said. “Against a team like South, you can’t have that kind of hole, they’re too good. They’re too sound defensively to let you back into it. Twenty almost feels like 40.
They’re good on the perimeter and have length down low. You have got to give them credit in the second half for coming out the way they did.”
Dylan Putman led UCHS in double figures with 10 points. Trevor Hensley scored eight and Merrick Nicksic scored seven.
Austin Hendrickson, who leads the conference in steals, had four steals against South.
“We hit some free throws late to keep the lead,” South head coach Mark Pendleton said. “I thought we did a good job going to the glass and getting those second-chance opportunities. I don’t think we allowed them many put-backs early in the game and credit goes out to our big guys for boxing out and keeping the pressure on.”
South had the 20-point lead late in the game, but the Blue Devils were able to rally within 11 points; however, a defensive mindset proved to give the Rebels what they needed for the win, Pendleton added.
“Our main mindset was to get three consecutive stops,” he said. “Three defensive stops late and I think we had one of those in the second half, but we want that to be a big thing heading into the district tournament.”
Will Blair led the Rebels with 16 points on the night.
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The Blue Devils dropped a 58-46 contest to Elizabethton on Tuesday, Jan. 27.
Also in this game, late runs by their opponent doomed the Blue Devils.
“It got away from us early,” English said. “Then 12-0 to open the fourth … those two runs combined, you're looking at 26-4 and you get beat by 12.
“There were a lot of good things but we have to figure out a way to pull together a full 32 minutes. Like against East, they had the 12-0 run early in the fourth. Something early in the fourth isn't jiving with us for some reason. … It is about making those basketball plays and we didn't have enough tonight.”
Nicksic and Hensley led UCHS with 10 points each. Jacob Smith scored nine.
Clay Simpson added six boards for the Blue Devils.
“We’re just in one of those, ‘shot-not-falling’ spells,” English said. “We’re going to go in the gym and work on what we need to do. We’re going to have to approach this stretch heading into the district and get on the right page to be a contender.”
• • •
The Blue Devils squared off against Johnson County on Feb. 3, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline. The two teams will face each other in the opening round of the District 1-AA tournament to be played at Sullivan East High School on Feb. 13.
The Blue Devils will go into the tournament as the fourth seed and Johnson County will be the fifth.
Within the conference’s top two spots, Sullivan South had a leg up over Elizabethton with the Cyclones losing to Johnson County, 51-44, on Friday. The teams will meet this week to decide the top two seeds.
Sullivan East will be the third seed heading into postseason with Happy Valley at six and the Golden Raiders in seventh.
It is all about the road ahead for UCHS heading toward the postseason. UCHS ends this week with road games against David Crockett on Friday, Feb. 6, Cloudland on Saturday, Feb. 7, and Hampton on Monday, Feb. 9.
All of these games are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.