BLUFF CITY — Facing a 17-point deficit entering the fourth quarter, Sullivan East didn’t have the body language or lack of effort often shown by a beaten team.
And when the Patriots got within shouting distance of Elizabethton, the Cyclones wilted.
A brilliant comeback — fueled in part by Jonathan King’s mammoth 13-point, 18-rebound performance — ended with a 54-52 victory for the Patriots on Saturday night, clinching the Three Rivers Conference basketball championship.
“I thought we played uptight from the very beginning,” said East head coach John Dyer. “Then we tried too hard, and when you try too hard nothing good happens offensively.
“But tonight was a special night for the Patriots. We never quit, and we never gave up.”
East (21-6 overall) stayed perfect in league play at 8-0. Elizabethton fell to 5-2, 15-6.
In the girls’ game, the Lady Cyclones regrouped from Tuesday’s loss and earned a 75-61 victory over Sullivan East.
After a first-quarter draw, the Cyclones edged ahead in the second quarter. Then in the final two minutes of the first half, Elizabethton went on a 9-0 run to take a 31-18 advantage into the locker room.
East scored the first four points of the third quarter and appeared to be back in sync. However, the Cyclones got hot again and took a 45-28 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I liked our energy,” said Elizabethton head coach Lucas Honeycutt. “We moved the ball, took good shots, and didn’t let the little things bother us. The guys played hard, and kept playing hard.”
It’s hard to say exactly when the Cyclones lost control. However, they only scored two points in the first 6:22 of the final period.
Meanwhile, East started chipping away. David Casaday, who was 1 of 9 from 3-point land through three quarters, took it to the rim for a deuce on East’s first fourth-quarter possession. He would go on to total 11 points in the fourth quarter, and finished with 18 for the game.
And it seemed like every time East missed, King was there for the rebound. The Patriots missed 16 shots in the second half, and King had eight offensive rebounds — and got his hand on at least two others.
“Jon King was awesome on the boards,” said Dyer. “And he did it even though things were not going smoothly for him.”
Trailing 47-33 with five minutes left in the game, East went on a 10-0 run, capped by Christian Watson’s first bucket of the night — a 3-stick from the corner pocket.
Zach Norwood, who had a superb effort in the losing cause, scored with 1:38 remaining to make it 49-43.
However, Austin Fleenor hit his first bucket of the night — a 3-hammer from the corner pocket — to make it 49-46 with 1:17 left.
Elizabethton drowned in a sea of turnovers down the stretch, and Casaday made them pay with a 3-knock to tie the game with 44 seconds left.
Declining to hold for one shot, the Cyclones quickly tried to force the ball inside, and East got the steal. Fleenor then dropped a pair of free throws for a 51-49 East lead.
Another turnover gave Jordan James a chance to ice things with a pair of free throws with 22.1 seconds remaining.
Zeke Clark, who struggled with foul trouble throughout the game, swished a trey ball with 3.1 seconds left to make it 53-52.
Casaday then made one of two free throws before Clark’s potential game-winning toss from 50 feet drew backboard but no iron.
“We made some mistakes down the stretch,” said Honeycutt. “I probably should have done a better job with a few things. We went through a little stretch where we weren’t looking to score as much as we needed to, but we will do a better job next time.
“You always want to win, and that could have been the conference championship. You don’t know because we haven’t played Sullivan North. But everything was much better for us than the last time we played East. I think the kids will be ready if we get another shot.”
Clark led the Cyclones with 13 points while Michael Wagner added 10 points.
Norwood finished with six points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and played tenacious defense against Casaday.
Elizabethton (girls) 75
Sullivan East 61
Freshmen twins Kelci and Kayla Marosites combined for 34 points and seven 3-pointers as the Lady Cyclones ran away for the win.
Kelci dropped five trey balls and totaled 19 points while Kayla finished with 15 points.
Senior Whitney Roberts worked inside for 14 points and seven rebounds for the Cyclones (6-1, 18-4). Another freshman, Melinda Perry, had three 3-pointers and nine points.
Sullivan East freshman Brandy Watkins led the Patriots with 20 points with four 3-pointers while Savanna Summers added 13 points and hit three treys for East (2-4, 16-9).