Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett served notice the Big Seven Conference will be an entertaining basketball circuit this season.
And the Hilltoppers may have to endure their share of close battles if they want to keep their 57-game league winning streak alive. Science Hill survived a major challenge from the Indians, beating them 57-53 Tuesday night at the new 'Topper Palace — their 15th straight win over D-B.
But the gap is oh, so close.
“The Streak kind of snuck up on everybody,” said Science Hill head coach Ken Cutlip. “It went for a couple of years and nobody paid attention. Now it's on everybody's minds.
“Everybody will play us like it's the game of their life. They will look for an opportunity to snap it, and eventually it will. We will have to play well every night to win.”
Cutlip's team played well against the Indians, mainly in the little things. The Hilltoppers boxed out consistently while the Indians occasionally whiffed. The 'Toppers knocked down free throws down the stretch to seal it.
Meanwhile, D-B showed some early season sloppiness with the ball. Numerous unforced turnovers early in the second half impeded the Indians' progress. They just didn't look like they were ready for the business end of a Big Seven Conference contest.
D-B head coach Charlie Morgan said that can be chalked up to early season woes.
“But the bottom line is when we had to make plays, we didn't make plays,” said Morgan.
Twice in the final 1:20 of the game, the Indians got the ball in the hands of their main man, Jon Fulkerson. The smooth 6-foot-7 junior missed a good look from trey country, and later turned it over while making a post-spin move into the lane.
Little things. The kind of little things Cutlip excels at coaching. It's the reason his teams won 30 games six times in his first nine seasons.
Science Hill won the game in part by carving up D-B's man-to-man defense with superb offensive sets at critical points in the game.
There's still plenty of talent in the Hilltoppers' cupboard. With Calvin Songster, the 'Toppers have a go-to guy. It will be important for him to make things happen during key stretches of big games.
And when guard Malik McGue gets even more involved with the offense, the Hilltoppers will get better. The spunky junior is still shaking off the football rust, but racked up seven assists.
Same goes for post Ian Martin, who seemed to look more comfortable as the minutes piled up in the game.
And wing Peyton Wingate can be a important piece to the Science Hill puzzle. He has nice range and a soft shot.
“I just wish he would have as much confidence in his game as the coaching staff has,” said Cutlip. “He does a lot of little things.”
At least at this point in the season, D-B seems like it has one directive on offense: get to the rim. Given the Indians' inability to threaten from the perimeter, it makes sense.
But somewhere down the road, the Indians will have to knock down the long ball to advance.
Fulkerson gives the Indians a dynamic in the paint most teams don't have. He is very good at using his frame to get good looks on offense, and also to impact plays on defense.
Makale Foreman is a playmaking guard who can create a lot of things. When Tyreke Love returns in January, assuming he does, the Indians are going to be better.
But Science Hill will still have a leg up on them from this December victory.
Douglas Fritz is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.