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’Toppers teams turning Big Eight into Little Seven

Trey Williams • Dec 16, 2012 at 10:20 AM

Science Hill’s basketball teams keep streaking while exposing Big Eight Conference opponents.

Ken Cutlip’s Hilltoppers beat Dobyns-Bennett, 74-57, on Friday. It was Science Hill’s 12th straight win in the series. The Hilltoppers haven’t lost to D-B since a 73-70 setback in the Arby’s Classic on Dec. 29, 2008.

The ‘Toppers have won 45 straight Big Eight Conference regular-season games. Most impressively, Cutlip’s program has maintained its dominance despite the transfers of Shannon Hale, Jaylen Allen and Trevonn Fields and an injury to Hunter Leveau which kept him out for a month and prevented him from ever being close to 100 percent last season.

Cutlip’s teams always play extremely hard, and their unselfish play has drawn unsolicited raves from numerous coaches the past couple of seasons. They’re evidently an extension of the energy he expends during games.

Johnson City Press photographer Dave Boyd recently offered a disc with hundreds of photos from last season. Among the most striking images — ones that aren’t usually apparent when you’re doing stats and play-by-play — is how many stances, crouches, leaps, fist-pumps and intense facial expressions Cutlip makes from one end of his coaching box to the other during the course of a game. It was a reminder of the photo sequences the Press-Chronicle used to run of animated coaches like Elvin Little and a middle-aged Charlie Bayless.

Friday’s 17-point victory notwithstanding, denying Dobyns-Bennett a breakthrough this season looks like more of a chore than the past couple of years for Cutlip and company. The Indians pose tough matchups for Science Hill with 6-foot-7 Connor Mitchell (15 points), 6-foot-4 A.J. Anderson (11 points) and 6-foot-3 Tyleke Love (17 points), and D-B coach Charlie Morgan has been talking about sophomore point guard Makale Foreman since he was an eighth-grader.

“They’re a lot better this year,” said Science Hill’s C.J. Good, who is first cousins with Anderson. “They’ve got size and good guards.”

And D-B had a good atmosphere in the Buck Van Huss Dome on Friday. As far as ambiance, it was more stirring than Science Hill’s runner-up run through a Thanksgiving tournament in the Bahamas.

“It was the hypest game we’ve had this year,” said Good, who made four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 18 points. “We didn’t want to disappoint our fans.”

D-B fans never got a chance to cheer against the Lady Hilltoppers (4-0, 10-0). Science Hill bolted to a 61-19 lead in what was a merciful 79-43 victory.

It was Science Hill’s 29th straight league win since losing, 62-57, to Tennessee High on Dec. 7, 2010.

Overall, Darrell Barnwell’s Lady ‘Toppers have won 72 of 74 since a 75-72 loss to Station Camp in Gatlinburg two weeks after that loss to the Lady Vikings. The losses came in the state semifinals to Memphis Central in 2011 and in the state championship last season against Riverdale.

Science Hill will get a chance to avenge that loss at Riverdale on Saturday (8 p.m.). The Lady ‘Toppers played the state championship game without Middle Tennessee signee Shy Copney, who injured a knee early in the fourth quarter of a semifinal victory against Bashaara Graves-led Clarksville the previous day.

Copney is healthy again, and Riverdale no longer has Miss Basketball Shacobia Barbee (Graves deserved the award), who is starting as a freshman for Georgia.

Science Hill beat Riverdale without Copney at a camp in Murfreesboro this past summer, but Riverdale has since added three transfers — guards from Chattanooga and the Atlanta area and a post from Mount Juliet, according to Barnwell.

Riverdale (8-0) is ranked No. 6 in the CBS MaxPreps national poll. Science Hill is No. 3.

“Summer is so much different,” Barnwell said. “You can’t put a lot of stock in what you do in the summer. But it does help you mentally — knowing we can handle their pressure and their press and not turn it over like we did in the state championship game.”

Science Hill opens play in the showcase State Farm Classic on Friday at 8 p.m. against Smyrna — a game they were initially scheduled to play against Franklin County.

A two-game sweep at Riverdale will hardly assure the Lady ‘Toppers of entering January unscathed. They will also play this month in the Arthrex Holiday Shootout in Naples, Fla.

Science Hill is one of five Top 25 teams in the tournament. The others: No. 2 Whitney Young (Chicago); No. 10 Dreher (Columbia, S.C.); No. 23 McDonogh (Owings Mills, Md); No. 24 North Gwinnett (Suwanee, Ga.).

The Lady ‘Toppers open against No. 23 McDonogh at 5 p.m. on Dec. 26. They will leave Johnson City on a chartered bus around noon on Christmas day.

Whitney Young is expected to reach the final. It is in the opposite bracket from Science Hill.

Young is led by 5-foot-6 wing Linnae Harper. ESPN’s No. 5 overall recruit, Harper has signed with Kentucky.

“Whitney Young was down there and won it last year,” Barnwell said. “They finished in the top five in the country last year. They’ve got one of the most talented players in the country. … Harper’s for real.

“We’re excited. I mean, how often does a team from this area get to play on that stage — and feel like you have a chance to compete?”


Hunter Leveau is healthy again and playing at Massanutten Military Academy (Woodstock, Va.), where ETSU 1,000-point scorer Mike Kretzer played. The 6-foot-4 Leveau is playing wing for Chad Myers’ team, which is at or near the top of prep school polls. Leveau was recently offered by Hofstra. …

Liberty Bell will host a showcase tournament Friday and Saturday in the auxiliary gym at Freedom Hall. Participants include the seventh- and eighth-grade teams from Greeneville, Cleveland and Chattanooga-McCallie.

Liberty Bell coach Joe McPherson said University of Chattanooga coach John Shulman will be in attendance on Saturday when McCallie plays Liberty Bell. No, Shulman isn’t recruiting eighth-graders; his son, Max, plays for McCallie.

Shulman played for McPherson at University High. Max wasn’t shortchanged in the gene pool on the maternal side, either. His mother, former Unicoi County star Amy Engle, was the Southern Conference Player of the Year in 1996 for Karen Kemp at East Tennessee State.

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