ERWIN — After three quarters of solid defense, Unicoi County tightened the screws even more in the fourth period.
The Blue Devils broke open a close game and handed Sullivan South its first Three Rivers Conference loss, a 52-39 decision Saturday night at Unicoi’s gym.
First place in the league is basically shared by the Blue Devils (7-1, 19-4) and Rebels (6-1, 10-9).
“This keeps us alive,” said Unicoi head coach John English, who noted his team still has several challenging road games left on the league schedule. “If you want to win the regular season title, you’ve got to win at home.”
South led 30-25 with 5:32 left in the third quarter, but the Blue Devils allowed them only nine points the rest of the way — with three of those coming on a meaningless 3-pointer with nine seconds left.
“Defensively we started getting after it,” said English. “We held them for a long time, a 10-minute stretch where they only got six points. And we got confidence offensively and started attacking more.”
Keith Arrowood scored five straight points give Unicoi a 32-30 lead, and Connor Simpson followed with a three-point play to make it five-point cushion heading into the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils dominated in the paint. Simpson had 15 points and 12 rebounds while Nic Chambers added 12 points and six boards.
Arrowood was also a factor inside as he attacked South’s post players on drives to the bucket. He finished with 12 points and was clearly a difference in the outcome — handling the ball, playing defense, and penetrating.
The senior has only played five games after recovering from a leg injury suffered in football.
“Getting him back is huge,” said English. “We need what he brings on both ends of the court.”
Arrowood said it was one of those games that came together nicely.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but I guess I was in the right place at the right time and did the right things,” said Arrowood.
The injury still lingers somewhat, he said.
“It’s just sore after practices and games,” he said.
Lucas Hensley also made key contributions with eight points and six rebounds. And while Ethan Rice scored just one point, he handled South’s defense while dishing out four assists.
South was led by Dalton Light, who had 13 points and six rebounds. Mickey Winkle added nine points while Christian Comsa totaled six points and seven rebounds.