Both head coaches agreed: Marcus Taylor was the difference for University High against Happy Valley.
Taylor scored 37 points to lift the Junior Bucs to a 68-65 victory over the Warriors in the opening game of Saturday action at the 24th annual Hardee’s Classic basketball tournament at David Crockett High School.
In the fifth-place game, Daniel Boone rallied from 14 points to beat Cherokee in overtime and Greeneville beat Unaka for seventh-place.
Taylor had 18 points in the fourth quarter, including a rare 4-point play, to put the Junior Bucs ahead in a game which featured six second-half ties and 10 lead changes.
“I’m just glad it was enough,” Taylor said as the Junior Bucs improved to 2-4. “We needed a win, and I was just lucky I hit enough to win the game. We lost a tough game to Unaka the other night that was kind of the same way. Today, we were down in the fourth quarter, but we came back and won. That’s promising for us. We needed it.”
University High’s coach Justin Penley had plenty of his praise for his 5-foot-9 senior guard’s efforts against the Warriors (1-7).
“The difference in that game was that Marcus played on our team and not theirs,” Penley said. “Marcus definitely came to play tonight. He made enough plays at the end to pull it out for us.”
For the Warriors, it was a better showing after losing by double digits in each of their first two Hardee’s Classic games. Happy Valley had a chance to send it into overtime, missing a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“I thought our effort level was much better than the last two games,” HV head coach Chuck Babb said. “Mistakes were more limited. We made two or three in the last two minutes that were critical, but all in all, I was much happier with the effort.
“Taylor, we knew who he was when we got here, and two of our timeouts were spent talking about him and what they were going to do to get him the ball. But, he’s a great player and credit to him how he made some big shots down the stretch.”
Happy Valley emerged from the first quarter with a 14-12 lead. After University High led most of the second quarter, the Warriors regained the lead on a Josh Hammonds bucket. Nathan Kyte knocked down a 12-foot jumper at the buzzer to give HV a 26-23 lead at the half.
The Junior Bucs had their own buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter, when Luke Willoughby knocked down a 3-pointer to close within 42-40 heading into the final eight minutes.
Willoughby gave University High the lead for good with a 3-point play to put the Junior Bucs up 64-61 in a second half. Still, it came down to that final buzzer, which Penley said will serve his team well once they get to league play.
“Often times, it comes down not to coaching as much as guys making plays,” he said. “Night in and night out, you know you’re going to face solid game plans and guys are going to put their guys in spots. Hopefully, your guys make plays more than the other team.”
Joseph Phillips added 15 points and nine rebounds in the University High victory.
Tyler Marlowe led Happy Valley with 18 points, while Corey Matherly posted a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. Brandon Young matched the rebounding total, while freshman Austin Hicks scored nine points for the Warriors.
Daniel Boone 62
The Trailblazers (5-3) rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime. Once in the extra period, Dillon Reppart made four game-clinching free throws in the final 26 seconds.
Reppart ended with a game-high 23 points and fellow senior Ty Jones added a dozen, including a crucial 3-point play during the comeback.
“Reppart has to be the leader,” Arnold said. “When things are not going well, he has to step up. I challenged him with that at halftime and he did that.
“I think we missed (Aaron) Shelton tonight. He was sick, but we missed his toughness. But Ty and Zach (Rafalowski) did great jobs. Tyler Ledford gets limited minutes as a senior, but he came in and did some good things for us so that was good.”
Boone also got 14 points from freshman guard Holden Hensley with 12 of his points coming off 3-point goals.
Cherokee (3-5) took an early 12-2 lead and continued to lead throughout the first half, up 25-21 at the break.
After a bucket by Boone’s Ty Jones cut the lead to two points, the Chiefs pulled away in the third to take a 41-27 lead into the final period.
They were up 48-38 after a pair of Jacob Watson free throws with three minutes to go, only to see Boone come back with eight straight points.
Tanner Trent led the Chiefs with 22 points. Cade Gibson finished with 12 points and Keaton Bailiff ended with 11.
After going back-and-forth for the first three quarters, the Greene Devils (2-4) was able to put a little distance on the Rangers (4-6) in the final period.
Greeneville held a 10-point lead with 2:06 left befre Unaka cut the lead back to five on a 3-point goal by Logan Carrier. The Greene Devils made enough plays down the stretch to put it away.
The Rangers, who had 22 points each from Carrier and Alex Baltaji, couldn’t overcome 27 turnovers and hitting only 11 of 24 attempts from the free-throw line.
“We turned the ball over way too much,” Unaka head coach Aaron Dugger said. “For most of the first half and much of the second half, we got what we wanted. But, we had those spurts where we would have 3-4 turnovers in five possessions.”
Eli Rasnick totaled13 for Unaka in the loss.
Trevor Wright and Raheem Young scored 15 points apiece to lead the Greene Devils. Anton Almqvist added 11 points.