University High scored the final seven points of its semifinal against host David Crockett to win 71-63 on Friday, and advance to the Hardee’s Classic championship for the first time.
The Junior Bucs (3-0) will face Greeneville for the championship of the 23rd annual boys’ basketball tournament. The Greene Devils held on to beat Unaka 73-67 in the second semifinal.
Happy Valley defeated rival Unicoi County 66-49 and Sullivan East routed Sullivan South 69-38 in earlier consolation bracket games.
“It’s neat to think back and this is the first University High team to make it to the championship of the Hardee’s,” Junior Bucs head coach Justin Penley said. “It’s a testament to our guys. I’m proud of the way they battled through some adversity in the first half.
“We told them to keep playing with high intensity and high effort and things would hopefully even out in the long run. We kept contesting shots and boxed out so when they did miss, we didn’t give them second and third opportunities. It’s good to see their hard work pay off.”
Guard Marcus Taylor scored 22 points to lead the Junior Bucs to their historic win. Taylor also had 22 points in UH’s opening-round win over Unicoi County. Against the Pioneers, Taylor displayed his versatility on the defensive end. He moved down to the post on a pair of possessions in the fourth quarter and forced a couple of crucial turnovers.
“I do whatever I can to try to get a win,” Taylor said. “We have some good guys down there so I didn’t have to help out too much. We’re pretty good defensively as a whole.”
Penley explained it was Taylor took it upon himself to help out his teammates. As a coach, Penley said he gives Taylor and others a certain amount of free reign.
“At one point we were in a scramble mode, but Marcus is one of those guys with great natural instincts,” Penley said. “That was just an instinctual move on his part to get that. I give those guys a lot of freedom on the court, at least at certain points of the game. I don’t want to overcoach them and let them use their natural abilities.”
Joseph Phillips was another major contributor on the offensive side, scoring 17 points including a trio of 3-point goals. Calen Archer battled inside to score 12 points, while Seth Hilbert added 10 points and controlled the action in the final stages from his point-guard position.
Josh Saults countered with 16 points for the Pioneers (2-3). Dustin Day also hit double-digits with 10 points, followed by Noah Leonard with nine points.
Crockett head coach Richard Tarlton felt the combination of UH’s talented backcourt and the his own team’s lack of experience hurt them in the end.
“They have as good a set of guards as is in our area as far as being able to handle the ball and knock down shots,” Tarlton said. “Our game plan going in was to keep the ball out of No. 3’s (Taylor’s) and No. 11’s (Phillips’) hands. We wanted to double them up and make them give it up, but we lost sight of our men a time or two and gave them some easy looks.”
Down by 11, the Junior Bucs rallied with the last seven points of the second quarter to trail 35-31 at the half.
University High still trailed by four, 52-48, heading into the final quarter. However in the final 1:10, UH stretched a 64-63 lead into an eight-point victory.
“It just comes down to what coach tells us to do and finishing games,” Taylor said. “We’re a good team and we can compete with anybody. It just came down to the final stretch and getting it done in the second half.”
Greeneville 73, Unaka 67
Landon Duncan scored 23 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, to lead the Greene Devils (3-1) over the Rangers (1-3) and into the championship game.
It wasn’t just the amount of points which Duncan scored, but the tough shots he made which provided the difference.
“The one thing about Landon, he works on those tough shots,” Greeneville head coach Brad Woosley said. “He can make those fades. I can’t say enough about how his offensive game has taken off. Also defensively, he’s doing a much better job than earlier in the year.”
Trevor Wright had 14 points, while Zach Cobble and Jacob Cobble scored 10 apiece as Greeneville gutted out another tough win. After leading 35-24 at the half and by 16 points early in the third quarter, the Greene Devils had to hold on as Unaka cut the lead to just five points in the final quarter.
“Our kids don’t quit and they keep working and working,” Woosley said. “You’d like to put teams away, but Unaka kept coming. They’re really physical and hard-nosed. They made us work for everything we got.”
Eli Rasnick paced the Rangers with 13 points. Spencer Nave scored a dozen points and Billy Bales added 10 points.
Happy Valley 66, Unicoi County 49
With the recently retired Charlie Bayless in attendance, the Warriors scored 13 unanswered points during one stretch in the third quarter to give Chuck Babb his first career win as head coach.
Happy Valley led 12-11 at the end of one quarter and 25-18 at halftime before pulling away from the Blue Devils early in the second half.
“Erwin is Erwin, and they’re always going to be pretty good,” Babb said. “We were worried about transition, but we did a good job sprinting back, and our press slowed them up some.”
The Warriors (1-3) had a 20-point lead, 48-28, heading into the final period. Happy Valley dominated the interior with Kelton Brzostowski pouring in a game-high 20 points.
“The main focus for us was to get over the hump,” Brzostowski said. “We’ve been playing hard, playing hard, but it’s been hard to get a win. Today, we came in focused, ready to get over that hump.
“Last year, we had a tough time with Unicoi. It feels great to beat Unicoi this year.”
Corey Matherly tallied a dozen points and Josh Price added 10 in the victory.
Lucas Hensley was the leading scorer for Unicoi County (2-2) with 13 points. Ethan Rice also hit double figures with a 10-point effort.
Sullivan East 69, Sullivan South 38
The Patriots (4-2) outscored the Rebels 22-5 in the second quarter and rolled to the easy victory.
Ahead 47-32 late in the third quarter, Sullivan East scored 19 unanswered points to put the game out of reach.
Guard David Casaday led the way with 20 points, while East’s 6-9 senior center Jonathan King ended with a dozen points.
After losing to Greeneville by one point in the opening round, the Patriots turned up the intensity against South (0-4).
“I liked the way they responded tonight,” East head coach John Dyer said. “The first quarter, we were kind of finding our way, but the second, third and fourth quarters we played really well. South showed some spunk at the end of the third quarter, but we came out in the fourth quarter and played really tough again.”
All 11 players for East scored in the victory as Jordan James and Christian Watson each ended with nine points. Michael Harr was South’s leading scorer with 11 points.