The Patriots dominated the boards while ending the Hilltoppers’ season with a 61-53 victory Saturday night at Jefferson County.
Paced by double-figure scoring from 6-foot-3 wing Kyle Briggs (16 points), 6-foot-7, 243-pound post Brice Cusick (13) and 6-foot-5, 195-pound John Bryant (12), the Patriots (28-4) feasted on second-chance points, many of which came at the foul line.
Jefferson County was 24-38 at the foul line and Science Hill was 5 of 8, and the officiating wasn’t lopsided.
As has usually been the case, Science Hill lived — and eventually died — by the jump shot.
Senior shooting guard Calvin Songster made five 3-pointers en route to a game-high 17 points, sophomore wing Peyton Wingate made three treys while scoring 15 points and junior post Kaden Wampler (eight points) made the remaining two of the Hilltoppers’ 10 treys. But most perimeter shots found iron down the stretch in the hot gym as striking distance crept out of range.
“We knew what Jeff County’s strengths were, and we couldn’t stop their strengths and their size,” Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip said. “They got the ball inside and they went up and got those offensive rebounds and were able to get to the line.”
Science Hill’s last lead was 32-30 with 6:17 left in the third quarter when Songster freed himself with a dribble for a 3-pointer. He hit a trey with 5.3 seconds left in the third quarter to cut the Patriots’ lead to 40-39, but Bryant beat the buzzer with a transition lay-in to give the Patriots a three-point lead and momentum heading into the fourth quarter.
Indeed, Bryant’s basket triggered a 12-1 run that included eight free throws and gave Jeff County a 52-40 lead with 4:46 to play. Bryant attempted four free throws during two trips to the line during the decisive spurt, once via an offensive rebound and the other time after taking a defensive rebound away from a Hilltopper.
“That (frontcourt) is our bread and butter,” Jeff County coach Chris Poore said. “They went with what they do and we went with what we do. And they shot it well, daggone it. Songster and 34 (Wingate) can light it up, and even 32 (Kaden Wampler) made some shots tonight. He usually does if he gets hot.
“But our bigs inside got the job done. They’re tough and they battle.”
Wingate scored 10 points in the final 4:33, helping Science Hill trim the 52-40 deficit to 60-53 with possession. But a 3-pointer that would’ve made it interesting with 30 seconds left was left short.
“We knew they had two large posts who crash the boards,” Songster said, “and we practiced for three or four days on trying to get them out. But I mean, when it came down to it we just didn’t have the size to get them out of there and they made us pay. … They would get offensive rebounds, and once they got offensive rebounds most of the time it was just a put-back. …
“These last two weeks, you just really thought there was something special about this team — the way we were practicing and coming together. But we lost to a good team. We laid it all out there … so I have no regrets.”
Jefferson County missed a game-winner at the buzzer against Science Hill in the regional last season. In fact, the Hilltoppers had beaten it three straight seasons in the regional, and the Patriots appeared tight while Science Hill opened the game on a 10-2 run.
“Jeff County’s lost to these guys in the region the last three years,” said Poore, who’s in his third season. “And they knew they wanted to beat these guys. But we play like this every game. They find a way to compete and stay in it.
“At first, we were hesitant, started out slow down 10-2. And you could tell we were a little bit second-guessing ourselves. … We lost a tough one up there (last year) and that’s been on their mind the whole time.”
Science Hill (20-12) had seven seniors: Daniel Sweeney, Songster, Blake Begley, Hunter Hensley, Aaron Adams, Harris Galpin and Andrew Smith.
Four Science Hill losses the past two weeks included three overtime setbacks.
“I really think our kids battled (tonight),” Cutlip said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been any prouder of a group of kids than how these young men have handled the last two weeks. The last two weeks have been very disappointing — a whole lot of adversity — and these young men have came back every day to practice and represented our program at the highest level. I mean, the effort has been amazing over the last two weeks. …
“I do want to say we’re extremely proud of our seven seniors and how they’ve represented our program on the floor this year. … They continued to battle.”
Hensley had four assists. McGue had seven points.
Jefferson County will host Tennessee High on Tuesday.