Top-ranked Oak Hill Academy was the more appealing matchup, but Science Hill’s most important game of the week is tonight at Dobyns-Bennett.
Ken Cutlip’s Hilltoppers (3-0, 11-1) and Charlie Morgan’s Indians (3-0, 5-3) are the only unbeaten teams left in the Big Eight Conference.
That’s not unusual in a tradition-rich rivalry that’s produced such players as Gary Carter, Skip Brown, Dee Dee Stewart, Shane Carnes and Shane Williams, and coaches like Guy Crawford, George Pitts, Buck Van Huss and Elvin Little.
Science Hill wasn’t pleased with its 82-47 loss to powerful Oak Hill, which has at least eight future Division I college players. But D-B was probably even more irritated after its loss Monday – a 53-47 defeat to Sullivan North. The Golden Raiders’ Will White made two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help North beat D-B for the first time since Morgan took over in 2000.
While the Indians have surely had productive practices since the intra-city setback, Cutlip hasn’t seen any ill effects in practice after his Hilltoppers suffered their first loss of the season in such convincing fashion.
“As we sat back and evaluated that game, we were pleased with our effort and our execution,” Cutlip said. “We were just going against a very good team. What was disappointing was shooting 29 percent, and a lot of those were open opportunities. … We’re a little better than that.
“Then again, you’re playing an outstanding team. And I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Oak Hill.”
Oak Hill coach Steve Smith, whose Warriors have played the majority of their games at neutral sites or in cozy Mouth of Wilson, said the ’Toppper Palace was one of the best environments his team has experienced this season. Not that Oak Hill was fazed during the efficient, businesslike performance.
“I was impressed with the way their kids handled themselves,” Cutlip said. “Obviously, they didn’t get rattled. … They kind of play within themselves.”
An 11-2 run by Science Hill that bridged the third and fourth quarters served as a moral victory.
“I thought we competed and we didn’t back down,” Cutlip said. “The kids didn’t quit. We got them to bring their starters back in the fourth.”
Science Hill 6-foot-5 post Hunter LeVeau, who hasn’t played this season, practiced Wednesday. LeVeau had knee surgery in the spring, but his most recent setback was a bulging disc in his back. He had a shot for it on Dec. 6.
Cutlip said LeVeau is now “day to day,” although he doesn’t expect him back before Science Hill begins its tournament in Hawaii on Dec. 28. The Hilltoppers are off until then after tonight’s game.
D-B is also without its big man. Junior 6-foot-6 post Zach Daugherty (knee) isn’t likely to return before some point in January.
The Indians’ key cogs include 6-foot-4 senior wing Cory Combs, who had 14 points in a 50-37 win at Daniel Boone when the Trailblazers were without Ryan Gaitor, and 5-foot-10 junior guard Devaun Swafford. He had 19 points, including the game-winner from about 14 feet with 10 seconds left, in a 50-48 win against Aaron Green-coached Oak Ridge on Dec. 3 in Kingsport. Green’s Wildcats were without four players (three were suspended) for that game.
Seniors Malik Foreman and Michael Norris can run the offense, and 6-foot-6 junior Connor Mitchell is an interior threat.
“They’ve done just a tremendous job on the boards,” Cutlip said. “They still have good length across the board. They don’t have anybody as big and physical as Daugherty was.
“It’ll be a big challenge. My thing is us putting the game Monday behind us and focusing on what’s important. We have a great group of kids and I think they’ll respond in a positive fashion.”
Darrell Barnwell’s Lady Hilltoppers (3-0, 8-0) will also put their undefeated record on the line at D-B (2-1, 6-3). One of the Lady Indians’ top threats is fronctcourt player Alex Anderson. She had 13 points in a win against North on Monday, and also had 13 points in a double-overtime victory against Oak Ridge.
n Science Hill alumnus Omar Wattad will play in Rupp Arena when Chattanooga visits Kentucky on Saturday at 8 p.m. (CSS). The replay is also on CSS on Sunday at 1 p.m. The Mocs are coached by University High alumnus and former East Tennessee State assistant John Shulman.
Wattad, a senior who played his first two seasons at Georgetown and is Science Hill’s all-time leading scorer (2,191 points), is tied with Ricky Taylor for the team lead in scoring (12.2 ppg). He has made 38.4 percent of his 3-pointers (28-73). Wattad made 88 treys while leading the Mocs in scoring (14.3) last season. …
The replay of Saturday’s FCA high school football All-Star game will air at 6 p.m. on WJHL. The second annual game is at 1 p.m. at Science Hill’s Kermit Tipton Stadium.
Trey Williams is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org