rom Staff Reports
The Unicoi County High School varsity boys basketball team won the Hardee’s Classic for the fifth time in the tournament’s history with a 78-61 victory over Morristown East on Saturday, Nov. 26.
“I am very proud of our guys for their play throughout the tournament and for winning it,” Blue Devil head coach Michael Smith told The Erwin Record. “We take pride in going down there and having a good showing.”
The championship ties the Blue Devils with David Crockett, the tournament’s host team, with the most Hardee’s titles in the event’s history. It is the first Hardee’s Classic crown for UCHS since 2013 and the first during Smith’s tenure as the head man for the Blue Devils.
“Being tied with Crocket for the most championships means a lot to us,” Smith said. “I’ve been a part of many championships as an assistant coach over the years. It felt gratifying to be the head coach for this title. I hope there are many more to come.”
Following the championship plaque presentation, Chase McNabb and Clay Simpson received all-tournament honors. Trevor Hensley, who scored his 1,000th career point against Morristown East, was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“Trevor is such a hard worker,” Smith said of his junior guard. “He deserves to reach that milestone. He deserves all of the credit. He comes in before school and shoots a lot to keep getting better. His ultimate goal is to play college basketball and I think that is a real possibility for him.”
• • •
The Blue Devils may have won by double digits, but they found themselves in a nip-and-tuck game early on against Morristown East before making a run to take control of the game. Near the halfway point of the opening frame, East held a 6-5 lead thanks to two 3-pointers by Keegan Glenn. East would extend that lead to 5 points, 13-8, before 7 consecutive points by the Blue Devils gave them the lead again. East would tie the game at 15 before UCHS scored 5 unanswered points to end the quarter with a 20-15 advantage.
“We started hitting shots during the second part of the first quarter,” Smith said. “We were missing those early in the game.”
Senior Blue Devil guard Chase McNabb hit a 3-pointer to open the second as the UCHS offense began to get on a roll and its zone defense did a better job defending East’s shooters. Within the first two minutes of play in the second frame, the Blue Devils had taken a 27-18 lead.
Following a timeout by East, the teams played even basketball to a 38-29 score before the Blue Devils closed the half on a 12-5 run to take a 50-34 lead into halftime.
“We started to do a better job on the defensive end and limited them to one shot,” Smith said. “We continued to make shots, as well. Our posts players really did a good job of scoring and controlling the boards in the second quarter.”
East scored first in the third quarter, but never really threatened to get back into the game as the teams played almost even basketball during the final 16 minutes. The Blue Devils won the game 78-61.
“East came out with more intensity in the second half and picked up their play,” Smith said, “but, we did a good job of taking care of the basketball, weathering their runs and maintaining our lead.”
Hensley scored 20 points (2 3-pointers) and had 8 assists against East.
Putman scored 12 and had 4 assists. Jacob Smith had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Clay Simpson also had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Michael Howell and McNabb both scored 9 points (3 3-pointers) and had 3 assists each. Troy Podvin scored 7 points (1 3-pointer) and had 7 rebounds.
• • •
The Blue Devils advanced to the championship game with an exciting 60-59 win over Daniel Boone that went down to the final minute of play on Friday, Nov. 25.
With the game tied at 59 and 7.1 seconds to play, Simpson tipped an inbounds pass made by a Trailblazer, a scramble for possession ensued and Putman came up with the ball under his team’s goal. He was fouled and hit 1-2 from the free throw line to put his team up for good.
“It was a back-and-forth battle,” Smith said of the Boone game. “Both teams had chances to put the other team away, but missed free throws in the fourth quarter.”
Hensley scored 27 points (3 3-pointers) and had 5 assists and 5 steals to lead UCHS.
McNabb scored 12 (3 3-pointers). Simpson scored 8 and had 11 rebounds. Putman scored 6. Smith scored 4 and had 7 rebounds. Podvin scored 3 (1 3-pointer).
• • •
The Blue Devils opened the Hardee’s Classic with a solid performance against the Hampton Bulldogs on Tuesday, Nov. 22.
“I felt like we came out and got after Hampton early in the game and built a lead,” Smith said. “Hampton did a good job of getting back into the game to tie it. It was another back-and-forth battle between us.”
With the team’s tied at 38 at the end of the third quarter, the Blue Devils outscored the Bulldogs by 9 points to earn a hard fought 57-48 win.
“We went on a 15-2 run to start the fourth quarter,” Smith said. “We had a 13-point cushion with 3 minutes to play. We controlled the boards in that stretch. We did a good job of making Hampton take tough shots and getting the rebounds.”
Podvin scored the first 8 points of that 15-2 run. McNabb scored the next 7.
Hensley scored 14 (2 3-pointers) and had 7 assists. Podvin and Smith both had double-doubles with 10 points and 10 rebounds each. McNabb scored 10 (2 3-pointers), Putman scored 7 and Simpson scored 6 to go along with 10 rebounds.
• • •
The Blue Devils went on the road to face the Science Hill Hilltoppers on Tuesday, Nov. 29, following The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
They are scheduled to travel to Sullivan South for their first Three Rivers Conference game of the season on Friday, Dec. 2. The junior varsity team is scheduled to play at 5 p.m. and the varsity is scheduled to play at 8 p.m.
UCHS will host Cloudland on Monday, Dec. 5, and will host conference rival Sullivan East on Friday, Dec. 8. The junior varsity is again scheduled to play at 5 p.m. with the varsity game beginning at 8 p.m.