ERWIN — One night after beating Elizabethton, Unicoi County turns into a fan of the Cyclones.
Getting a dominating second-half effort from Nic Chambers, the Blue Devils destroyed the Cyclones in the paint on their way to a 68-43 victory Monday night at the Devils’ Gym.
Unicoi (9-2, 21-5) now needs the Cyclones to beat Sullivan South tonight to force a tie for first place in the Three Rivers Conference and give the Blue Devils a shot at the top seed for the District 1-AA tournament.
“We’re definitely pulling for them,” said Unicoi head coach John English. “We want Friday night (at Johnson County) to be for the No. 1 seed. We will see how it plays out. We don’t have any control over it.”
Elizabethton (18-7 overall) fell to 8-3 in league play and saw its title hopes disappear.
Building a 31-18 halftime edge, Unicoi was striking from many different directions. But when Elizabethton opened the second half with a 12-4 run, the Blue Devils called timeout.
The message from the head coach was in easy-to-understand English: Take the orange thing and feed the post.
Three possessions later, Unicoi’s double-digit lead was restored (41-30) thanks to Chambers and Connor Simpson combining for three buckets. Chambers totaled 13 second-half points, 10 of them coming in a stretch of four minutes at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils went from seven points ahead to a 15-point lead (49-34).
The assists to Chambers were crisp, accurate, and came from different teammates: Keith Arrowood, Thomas Tipton, Ethan Rice, and Zach Thelen.
“I decided as a big man I had to be ready to score,” said the 6-foot-5 senior, who also had nine rebounds. “My teammates got it to me in transition. Every one of the passes was beautiful. I didn’t have a bad pass all night.”
English said Chambers simply played the way he has been playing.
“That’s Nic Chambers since Christmas,” said English. “He’s getting double-doubles and has a tough mindset at both ends of the floor.”
Simpson finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, consistently hurting the Cyclones throughout the game.
“We didn’t feel over there we did a very good job in the paint,” said English of his team’s 22-point loss at Elizabethton. “That was our mindset and our focus tonight.”
Ethan Rice — who reached the 1,000-point mark for his career in the loss to Sullivan South on Friday — added eight points and four assists for Unicoi while Lucas Hensley had eight points, six rebounds and three assists. Austin Green chipped in with five assists.
Chambers said Unicoi’s sights are set high.
“This is the first step of everything we’ve ever wanted: Murfreesboro,” said Chambers. “There’s nothing bigger than that.”
It was basically a lost evening for the Cyclones.
“I thought we stood a lot and didn’t defend well,” said Elizabethton head coach Lucas Honeycutt. “Our ball movement wasn’t good, and it didn’t seem like we could score inside or out. And we could have done a better job denying inside and making (Unicoi’s posts) catch it higher.”
Zeke Clark scored 14 points for the Cyclones, and went over 1,000 points for his career. Tyler Nichols added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Elizabethton (girls) 77
Unicoi County 41
Switching to a halfcourt man-to-man defense after halftime, the Lady Cyclones ran away for an easy win.
Elizabethton outscored Unicoi 23-4 in a dominating third-quarter performance.
“Coach (Len) Dugger just told us at halftime to come out and play our hardest,” said senior point guard Sarah Bradley, who paced the Lady Cyclones with six assists. “We needed to step it up on the defensive end, and when we play play defense our offense comes.”
Kelci Marosites had a standout effort, totaling 20 points, four 3-pointers, four rebounds, three assists and four steals.
“I thought she played within herself,” said Dugger, whose team improved to 11-0 in league play and 20-3 overall. “She didn’t try to force a lot. I thought that was as well as she has played.”
Marosites said things were coming her way.
“The last few games I hadn’t shot it well,” she said. “Coach just told me to relax and play hard, and that’s what I did.”
Sister Kayla Marosites added 13 points and continued her run of steals. She finished with seven thefts, her third straight game of at least six.
Emily Kiser came off the bench to get 12 points. Sarah Robinson added nine points and five rebounds.
Chelsey Harness and Destinie Hayes led the Lady Blue Devils (5-6, 11-14). Harness had 15 points and eight rebounds while Hayes totaled eight points and 18 rebounds.