After 30 years, the Arby's Classic is still bringing down the house.
It certainly wouldn't hurt to have Science Hill make a run toward a championship. But even with the Hilltoppers bouncing into the losers' bracket on the first day, the tournament still played to near-full houses and captured Northeast Tennessee's attention.
The event at Viking Hall in Bristol also produced European excitement as Urspring, Germany, became the first foreign team to capture the title. The Germans held off determined Mentor, Ohio, which lost 63-51 to give the Cardinals back-to-back runner-up finishes — also an Arby's Classic first.
Even though the finals didn't produce a high-scoring thrill-a-minute game, the basketball purists don't mind seeing a little lock-down defense and quality ballhandling. Mentor simply couldn't force enough turnovers against the skilled Germans.
The third-place game, Memphis Melrose's 57-53 win over Arden (N.C.) Christ School, would have made a nice championship, too. Melrose never trailed against Christ School, which didn't have the same horses it boasted during a 2011 run to the title.
Former Science Hill standout Shannon Hale had 18 points against Melrose, but was 3 of 14 from the field in a 59-53 semifinal loss to Urspring. Jaylen Allen, also a former Hilltoppers' player, had 20 against Urspring but was 1 of 7 from the field and had only four points against Melrose.
As for Science Hill, the Hilltoppers overcame their tough first-round loss to Melrose and won three straight games. First, Science Hill took down another former teammate, Trevon Fields, in a 67-64 win over Virginia Episcopal.
C.J. Good, who fell two short of D.A. Layne's tournament record 19 3-pointers, bombed away for seven trey balls in the win over the Fighting Bishops.
Science Hill followed that win by slapping down Tennessee High, 71-52, in the semifinals of the sixth-place bracket. Then on Monday, the Hilltoppers were up against the wall in a battle with giant-sized Father Henry Carr of Toronto.
Through three quarters, it appeared 7-foot-3, 300-pound Tanveer Bhullar and 6-foot-5 Dillon Brooks would just manhandle the Crusaders to a victory. The duo finished with a combined 43 points on 18-of-27 shooting from the field.
However, things finally started clicking defensively for Science Hill in the fourth quarter. In a stretch of four minutes, the Hilltoppers turned a 59-51 deficit into a 65-61 lead.
“It started on defense,” said Good. “We got some steals, layups and rebounds, and beat them down the floor.”
By the end of the fourth quarter, Science Hill had totaled 33 points and earned an 84-73 victory. The Hilltoppers made 21 of 24 free throws in the fourth quarter and were 29 of 34 for the game. Good was 10 of 10 from the line while Will Adams was 11 of 12.
“I felt great after the first quarter, but in the second quarter they scored 28 points and we had no answer,” said Hilltoppers' head coach Ken Cutlip. “We couldn't get stops. There was nothing we could do when they got it two feet from the basket.”
In the fourth quarter, Henry Carr rarely got the ball close to the basket because of determined play in the paint by Science Hill and tenacious work by its guards.
Also, the Crusaders' had a lack of focus on getting the ball to Bhullar. He only missed two shots, and rebounded both for lay-ins. Too many times the Crusaders settled for awkward drives to the basket instead of soft tosses to the big guy on the block.
Good finished with 22 points for the Hilltoppers, who improved to 20-2, while Adams had 19. Calvin Songster totaled 13 and Reed Hayes had 12.
It's really impressive to see how smoothly the tournament runs. A lot has been learned over the last three decades, and current tournament director Richard Ensor deserves a lot of credit for keeping up the grand tradition started back in the mid-1980s by former Tennessee High coach Dale Burns.
Sullivan East senior Jordan James won the Arby's Classic 3-point shootout. James scored 27 out of a possible 35 points.
Cherokee's Ty Ryans was second with 21 while Science Hill's C.J. Good and East's Christian Watson each totaled 20.