The Hilltoppers made a dozen 3-pointers, including seven while outscoring Volunteer 23-7 in the third quarter, and shot down the Falcons, 65-49, in a District 1-AAA quarterfinal at Viking Hall.
It was the 20th win of the season for the Hilltoppers (20-10), the 300th since the arrival of 10th-year head coach Ken Cutlip and, most importantly, secured a berth in the regional tournament.
Science Hill will play Tennessee High today at 6:30 p.m. in the semifinal nightcap. The Vikings (23-6) defeated Sullivan Central, 77-44, in Friday’s first game. The other boys’ semifinal today features top-seeded Dobyns-Bennett (17-8) and David Crockett (20-11).
There was no guarantee Science Hill would advance to the semifinals. The ’Toppers won by seven at Volunteer in the teams’ first meeting this season and needed overtime to beat the Falcons at home last week. And Science Hill entered the postseason having lost four of its l’tast seven, including a double-OT home loss to Greeneville in the regular-season finale on Feb. 7.
“This is a huge win for our kids. … It just shows you we can get on a run,” Cutlip said. “I think our kids feel better about themselves, and we needed to. … I don’t question these kids’ effort. Their effort has been outstanding. It’s just, you know, sometimes it comes down to putting that ball in the hole.”
There was no scarcity of scoring options for the final 21?2 quarters Friday, and reserve guard Garrison Brown triggered the breakout. He scored all 12 of his points with 3-pointers, beginning with three from the right wing in a 100-second span midway through the second quarter, and helped the Hilltoppers build a 31-25 halftime lead.
Brown’s final trey, after a kick-out to the right corner from Daniel Sweeney, capped a 9-0 run at the start of the second half. The margin was double digits for the game’s remainder.
Cutlip decided three or four minutes before tip that Brown, who’s played sparingly, was going to be one of the first substitutions if Science Hill started cold. He said Brown even did a double-take when he got the early orders to the scorer’s table.
“He can shoot the ball,” Cutlip said. “He has no conscience. He’s gonna come in and do it. And he’s been working hard all year waiting for his opportunity. …
“Our kids were playing their tails off, playing hard. We were getting good shots; we just couldn’t finish. And I thought Garrison helped us there in the first half. It was a big lift. It kind of showed us, hey, you know, there’s not a lid on that basket.”
Malik McGue assisted two of Browns treys in the first half and senior leader Calvin Songster the other in the second quarter.
“I’ve gotta think all my teammates for getting me the ball when I needed it — and just being able to finish,” Brown said.
Songster, who as usual was contending with junk defenses, had six assists, 12 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Perhaps best exemplifying his competitiveness, he rebounded his missed free throw as well as an ensuing miss before making a stick-back that gave Science Hill the lead for good with 6:17 left in the first half.
“Probably his most complete game as a Hilltopper in his career,” Cutlip said.
Peyton Wingate led Science Hill with 14 points, including three 3-pointers. Fellow sophomore wing Noah Charles made three treys en route to 11 points, and made things tough for Volunteer’s primary offensive threat, David McFarland (nine points).
“He got the majority of the minutes on McFarland,” Cutlip said. “And that was something else that was a huge part of the game, because McFarland averaged 23 points a game during the regular season against us. … Noah is very intelligent and he’s got good length.”
Logan Boyd led Volunteer (13-14) with 13 points. Ethan Crawford and Brad Halderman added 12 and 10, respectively.
“I thought we battled back at the end of that second quarter to kind of get it back within range,” Volunteer coach Chris Brown said. “But then we talked about coming out and having a good third quarter and it kind of went the opposite of that, you know. Give them credit. They hit shots.
“But I thought our five straight turnovers on the first five possessions of the third quarter puts you against the eight-ball, especially against these guys.”
Tennessee High made five of its 10 treys in the first quarter while making quick work of Sullivan Central (2-26). Senior forward Adam Mitchell scored nine of his 12 points while helping the host Vikings open the game on a 33-9 run.
In fact, he banked in a leaner after a high-post assist from 6-foot-7 Chase Branscomb (nine points) to cap the run.
Branscomb and Mitchell each made a 3-pointer, and they present problems for Science Hill that make Vikings coach Roby Witcher confident about today’s matchup.
“Those guys can step out and shoot it, and they’re pretty good passers as well,” Witcher said. “And I think that makes a big difference. … They’ve been playing together a long time.”
Austin McReynolds scored 12 points for Tennessee High. James Shuff scored 10.
Eight Tennessee High players made at least one 3-pointers.
Luke Nussman led Central with 16 pionts.
Today’s action begins with two girls’ semifinals. Top-seeded Science Hill plays Daniel Boone at 2 p.m., and Dobyns-Bennett versus Volunteer will follow.