KINGSPORT — It wasn't 1972, and the Russians were not playing the United States for the basketball gold medal in the Olympics.
But by the end of the boys and girls games, there had been enough clock craziness to resemble that historical debacle.
Sullivan South's boys emerged in first place in the Three Rivers Conference on the strength of a controversial 55-54 win over Unicoi County on Friday night at the Rebels' gym.
South improved to 9-1 in league play and 14-9 overall while the Blue Devils slipped to 8-2, 20-5 — ending a seven-game winning streak.
The girls game was even more like the Munich, Germany, contest with the Lady Rebels holding on for a 54-50 victory.
What actually happened in the final nine seconds of the boys' game seems open for debate, but both coaches agreed a referee's whistle blew prior to Mickey Winkle hitting the game-winning shot with 4.7 seconds left. Or was it 2.7 seconds?
It all started with Unicoi's Austin Green knocking the ball loose from Evan Headrick in frontcourt and recovering on the other end just behind the 3-point line. Green fed Lucas Hensley for a basket and a 54-53 Unicoi lead with about nine seconds remaining.
Blue Devils' head coach John English said he yelled for timeout as Hensley's score fell from the net. The whistle blew, said English, as Christian Comsa retrieved the ball and fired a 60-foot rifle shot to Winkle, who was 20 feet behind the Blue Devils' defense.
One reason for Winkle being so wide open, said English, was because Unicoi's players stopped when they heard the whistle.
South head coach Mark Pendleton said the whistle blew some time between Comsa's pass and Winkle's layup.
“I congratulated my kids for playing through the whistle,” said Pendleton.
After Winkle scored, the clock showed 4.7 seconds remaining and Unicoi was holding the ball under the basket as the referees finally stopped the action.
Giving some clue as to the timing of the whistle blowing, the scoreboard read 53-52 as the referees began a discussion. It was later reported the four people at the scorer's table all heard the whistle, apparently soon enough there may have been confusion whether Hensley's basket had counted — let alone Winkle's bucket.
A long discussion followed between the referees and both coaches. During the conversation, apparently none of the officials admitted blowing his whistle.
Then the lead official decided there was 2.7 seconds left in the game.
“I don't know how it got to 2.7 seconds,” said English. “It's not like he saw it on the clock because it never got down that far.”
After the game, the officials were approached by the media for an opportunity to make a comment on the decision to change the clock from 4.7 to 2.7 seconds. A South administrator refused to ask the officials if they wanted to comment.
After the clock was set to 2.7 seconds, another weird thing happened. The Blue Devils in-bounded the ball to Arrowood in backcourt, about 75 feet from the basket. Arrowood caught the ball on the run and dribbled the length of the floor, all the way to the basket, and laid the ball off the backboard before the horn sounded.
“As a basketball coach, we tell our guys to get the ball down the court in four seconds,” said Pendleton. “(Arrowood) might be extra fast.”
Unfortunately for Unicoi, Arrowood's shot missed.
English said in the overall scheme of things, South still did a lot to earn a win.
“Give them credit,” said English. “They made the plays to win the game.”
Still, it was a hurtful loss.
“This is a tough one because of what it could mean for the regular season conference championship,” said English. “But I'm proud of our guys for battling back.”
The crazy finish overshadowed a sloppy contest that was tight throughout. Both teams made numerous bad passes, bad decisions, and bad fouls — especially in the fourth quarter.
Christian Comsa led the Rebels with 15 points and added six rebounds while Winkle totaled 11 points.
It was a trio of treys late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, two by Colton Young, that made a big difference in the outcome.
Young finished with nine points while Will Blair totaled 10 rebounds. Evan Headrick chipped in with five assists.
Ethan Rice had a superb all-around effort for the Blue Devils. He finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Connor Simpson added 13 points while Nic Chambers totaled 11. Austin Green contributed six assists and four steals while Arrowood had three assists and six steals.
Sullivan South (girls) 54
Unicoi County 50
Twice in the final 1.4 seconds, the clock expired and the horn sounded to signal the end of the game. Twice the referees put time back on the clock.
But unlike the Russians in 1972, the Lady Blue Devils couldn't turn the extra time into a victory.
The first expiration came as a rebound was knocked out of bounds under Unicoi's bucket with the Blue Devils trailing 52-50. The referees put 0.4 seconds back on the clock.
Unicoi in-bounded the ball, and the lob toss bounced on the floor before it was touched and the horn sounded.
With the clock again set to 0.4 by the officials, Unicoi was called for a foul before the ball was thrown in-bounds. Brayden Hutchins then made two free throws to clinch the win.
South coach Tori Haile said she did not disagree with either of the referees' decisions.
“I felt like they did what they had to do,” said Haile, who added she was praying a lot during those final seconds.
Hutchins led South with 17 points while Kayla Tipton added 15. Morgan Seymore chipped in with 10 for South (7-3, 14-10).
Unicoi (5-5, 11-13) was led by Hannah Rice, who totaled 21 points.