’Toppers hope balance enough at state tourney

Douglas Fritz • Mar 14, 2012 at 10:01 PM

MURFREESBORO — Science Hill is not a dominant team, except for one thing: balance.

The Hilltoppers enter today’s Class AAA state quarterfinal game against Wilson Central as easily the most balanced in the state — and perhaps the most balanced team in Northeast Tennessee basketball history with six players averaging in double figures.

“It takes special kids, for them to be willing to pass up opportunities and look for somebody else,” said Science Hill head coach Ken Cutlip. “Some nights it’s your turn to score, and other nights you pass it to the guy who is hot. I can’t, thinking back, find a team so balanced. And that’s why we’re successful.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. (EDT) at Murphy Center.

Science Hill enters with a record of 34-2 while Wilson Central is 26-6. Science Hill’s wins are the product of a shared basketball with guard C.J. Good leading the way.

The Johnson City Press All-Northeast Tennessee player of the year is averaging 15 points, four assists and 2.5 steals per game. He’s joined in the double-figure assault by Zach Howard (12.2), Hunter LeVeau (11.4), Reed Hayes (10.6), Tre’vonn Fields (10.3) and point guard Will Adams (10.0).

“Ask any coach in the country, and they would rather have six kids averaging 10-15 points per game instead of two kids averaging 20 points apiece,” said Cutlip. “You have a better chance of winning if one or two guys are having an off night.”

Science Hill is averaging 71.3 points per game while allowing 47.3.

Wilson Central will try to counter the Hilltoppers’ balance with an attack led by Dee Oldham, a 6-2 senior who can flat out play the game, said Cutlip.

“He’s an amazing athlete off the dribble,” said Cutlip. “Any time he wants to create a shot, he can get it. He’s probably one of the best I’ve seen in elevating with body control and taking a jump shot.”

Oldham, the school’s all-time leading scorer, had 19 points in the sectional win over Brentwood while Jacob Williams added 20.

“Williams can shoot the three or put it on the floor,” said Cutlip. “And Conner Brandon is a shooter who is averaging about 10 points a game. He will shoot it from 24 feet with no conscience.

“Their first five are as good as any we’ve seen outside of Oak Hill Academy.”

Wilson Central’s inside presence took a hit in late January when Malcom St. Louis left the team for personal reasons. The 6-6 senior was leading the team in rebounding, and averaging 13.5 points per game.

“Several coaches have told me they are completely different without him,” said Cutlip. “But some have told me they are better as a team — obviously different, but better.”

Defensively, Cutlip said the Wildcats are a halfcourt team, but a good one.

“They will zone you and trap you and use combinations,” said Cutlip. “We won’t be able to run stuff. You’ve just got to play against them.

“I think the team that holds that ball and limits turnovers will be successful. I feel like we can give them some problems with our pressure.”

Both teams have faced a significant layoff as the sectional games were back on March 5. That’s nine days without a game.

“Different teams handle that better than others,” said Cutlip. “You can struggle having kids focus in practice. But our kids have been great, and I think what you do in practice carries over. But one of the toughest games to win at the state is the first one.”

Notes: Science Hill has an all-time record of 18-16 in the quarterfinal round and beyond, not including a third-place win over Chattanooga Riverside in 1967. ... The Hilltoppers haven’t won a game in the final eight since 2002, when they last reached the title game. They have lost six of their last seven quarterfinal contests. …

Cutlip is looking for his first state tournament win since taking over at Science Hill in 2005. His overall record on The Hill is 242-54.

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