The Hilltoppers limited Sevier County to just 19 first-half points and just 9 of 26 from the field for the game in a 53-42 win in Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup at the new Topper Palace.
Science Hill improved to 23-8 overall and will take on Morristown East in next Tuesday’s Region 1-AAA semifinal at Jefferson County. Sevier County finished its season at 20-11.
“I thought the first half we set the tone on the defensive end,” Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip said. “That was a big focus for us. The way we performed defensively, I thought our kids did a good job executing the game plan. We had a really good week of practice and I’m really happy for our seniors to move on.”
David Bryant paced the Hilltoppers with 13 points and Jerriah Love also finished in double figures with 11 points. The ’Toppers also got eight points from Will Stevens, and six apiece from Tate Wheeler and Jake Matherne.
Wheeler’s all-around numbers included seven assists, five rebounds and four blocks. When the Hilltoppers weren’t causing problems with their 2-2-1 full-court trap, Wheeler and Matherne were altering shots in the half-court defense.
“We tried to be the backside-help defenders,” Wheeler said. “We didn’t want them to get anything easy if they were able to get past our guards.”
Science Hill led 14-10 at the end of one quarter and were leading by four, 23-19, late in the second quarter when they went on a run with the last seven points of the half.
Sevier County owned the third period, pulling to within a possession, 36-33, before the ’Toppers made a couple of shots and then used the stall to pull the Bears out of a 2-3 zone.
“Fortunately for us, we were able to get the lead early,” Cutlip said. “They have to play a little faster if you have the lead. They can play slower than we were. But we were able to sit back, guard them and we didn’t give up anything easy. Then we did a great job in the fourth quarter — when they started trapping — to find the open man and get high-percentage shots.”
Matherne ended any serious chance of a Sevier County comeback, hitting a bank shot with 2:47 left and then blocking two shots on the other end. Matherne scored on a layup on the next possession for a 49-36 lead.
Wes Maples had a game-high 17 points to lead the Smoky Bears. Camden McElhaney finished with 10 points and Camden Burden had nine. Sevier County kept it close by hitting 15 of 16 free throws.
Science Hill was efficient, going 17 for 29 (59 percent) from the field and 7 of 8 from the free-throw line. The stats came as a surprise to leading scorer Bryant.
“Tonight, I couldn’t throw it in the ocean if I tried,” Bryant said. “But we got some fast-break layups and tried to finish them.”