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’Toppers saved the best for last at their new gym

Trey Williams • Feb 9, 2013 at 8:10 PM

After the relatively silent hiss of many blowouts, Science Hill’s new gym pumped up the volume while working overtime in the regular-season finale of its debut campaign.

The largest crowd of the season showed up for Dobyns-Bennett on Thursday – Science Hill athletic director Keith Turner estimated perhaps as many as 2,500 were in the approximately 3,000-seat facility for the boys’ game – and the shiny arena’s acoustics proved fertile for growing decibel levels when the Hilltoppers had to hang on for a 72-64 victory in overtime.

It was the 55th straight regular-season Big Eight Conference victory for Ken Cutlip’s ‘Toppers and the 13th straight against Dobyns-Bennett. But time seemed to be catching up with streaking Science Hill down the stretch.

Saxophonist Danny Williams played smoothly rousing versions of the national anthem before the girls’ and boys’ games. Science Hill fans probably wish he’d followed up with some Clarence Clemons on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” before the fourth quarter of the boys game, because the fast-breaking ‘Toppers all but stalled before the finish line.

The more Science Hill milked the clock the more it felt like it time might be running out on the extraordinary wins streak. The Hilltoppers seemed to tighten up and quit playing instinctively, and some of the Indian big boys’ heaving chests began to breathe a little easier.

Not to discredit Charlie Morgan’s Tribe. It never wavered after falling behind 58-50 on freshman point guard Patrick Good’s difficult-driving left-handed scoop with 2:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Indians sophomore guard Mykale Foreman scored five points the remainder of regulation and 6-foot-7 Connor Mitchell had a three-point play and a post-to-post assist on John Fulkerson’s interior basket that forced overtime with 19.8 seconds left.

Science Hill’s student section being placed at the baseline of the opponent’s goal in the second half amplified the atmosphere to an unprecedented level. The students were on A.J. Anderson, even when he went to the D-B bench briefly in the third quarter with what appeared to be an ailing right arm or shoulder.

“We want A.J.,” the students needled loudly, and Anderson soon obliged.

He banked in an acrobatic shot near the basket high off the glass, and converted the three-point play to get the Indians within 47-43 with 51 seconds left. And he was understandably eager and animated in letting the Hilltoppers’ teen-aged partisans know about it.

The passionate gamesmanship and raucous environment did justice to the area’s premier rivalry, as did the sudden silence when Foreman’s half-court shot at the end of regulation sailed through the air as a potential game-winner.

It was clear the shot was going to at least draw iron, assuming it didn’t swish, and its flight evoked visions of Chad Diminick’s game-winning 35-yard field goal with 17.7 seconds remaining in the Indians’ 37-34 defeat of Science Hill in late October. It was the 19th straight win in the series for D-B’s football team, which had trailed 34-19 with 10 minutes remaining before Foreman’s brother, Tennessee signee Malik, took over.

Ending Science Hill’s hoops superiority with a dramatically different Foreman rally would’ve been especially sweet. But Foreman’s attempt from the center circle wasn’t on line enough to even call the iron unkind, and the ‘Toppers wasted no time in stretching the lead to six points with a 3-pointer apiece from brothers C.J. and Patrick Good in overtime.

So the new gym didn’t end the regular season of its debut campaign with what the neighboring ‘Topper Palace would’ve surely described as a rookie mistake. The Palace helped build Science Hill’s Big Eight victory march to 41 games and went out on top when it sent Science Hill to Murfreesboro with a substate victory against Maryville last season.

Speaking of substates, the Hilltoppers’ other most memorable game in the new gym’s first season was against Oak Ridge in December during the Kia Shootout. They outscored Aaron Green’s Wildcats 36-20 over the final 10 minutes for a 69-64 victory.

If Science Hill hosts a substate game in a few weeks, Oak Ridge might very well be there again.

Unfortunately for the Lady ‘Toppers, not to mention David Crockett, the game in the new gym that generated the most discussion this season was their 104-10 win against the Lady Pioneers last week.

The Big Eight district tournament starts with two games on Monday at Daniel Boone, including what must be the most uncomfortable matchup in the history of the girls’ tournament when top-seeded Science Hill, ranked No. 2 in the state and 13th nationally, takes on Crockett.

Less than a week will have passed since Crockett coach Will Conley and athletic director Josh Kite were publicly critical of how Darrell Barnwell’s Lady ‘Toppers went about generating the 94-point margin. Barnwell was adamant that his players’ effort and execution – not margin of victory – were the factors in his decisions during what was a surreal mismatch.

Barnwell must be feeling some pressure with what’s essentially a self-imposed state-title-or-bust mission, and Conley’s endured the emotional wear and tear of mounting losses in the first season of a culture-changing challenge at Crockett.

Cool heads will probably prevail this time around, but the scene’s setting is certain to be more awkward than breaking wind on a first date.

And, much like many heated opinions, that stinks for everyone involved.

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