ROGERSVILLE – Science Hill’s balance eclipsed Morristown East’s stars in a do-or-die Region 1-AAA semifinal on Tuesday at Cherokee.
C.J. Good paced four Hilltoppers in double digits with 17 points and Hunter LeVeau tallied eight points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks in a surprisingly easy 64-44 victory that ended the Hurricanes’ season.
Science Hill (32-2), which clinched a berth in Monday’s sectional round, will play host Cherokee (25-7) for the regional title on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Chiefs eliminated Dobyns-Bennett in Tuesday’s nightcap.
Science Hill didn’t fool around with senior-laden Morristown East, which lost a close game to the Hilltoppers in the regional final last year with most of the same players, including 6-foot-3 wing Aaron Wheeler and veteran lead guard Casey Smith.
““I tell you, we had one of the best practices we’ve had all year (Monday),” Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip said. “There was a ton of energy and the kids were really focused and into it. That stuff carries over. Getting off to such a good start is important, because at this point there is no bad teams.”
Good, who also had six rebounds and three assists, and Reed Hayes (11 points, six rebounds, three assists) scored 11 and 10 points, respectively, in the first half while helping the Hilltoppers take a 38-17 lead into intermission.
Hayes had a 30-second sequence in the second quarter when he intercepted a backcourt pass for a lay-in and then made a 3-pointer in the left corner to stretch the lead to 34-17.
The 6-foot-5 LeVeau assisted two of Good’s three second-quarter baskets, including a bounce pass from the high post to reward a crisp backdoor cut.
LeVeau also beat the halftime buzzer with a tip-in of Hayes’ driving miss. It was one of five offensive rebounds for LeVeau, who has been playing all season with a bulging disc in his lower back. He doesn’t have the burst or lift he did in previous seasons, but is playing through pain at a relatively high level.
“I just had a feeling he was gonna have a big night, and boy, he did in all areas,” Cutlip said. “I thought he moved pretty good tonight and really asserted himself, especially when they were making that run late in the ballgame.”
LeVeau’s punctuation point on the offensive boards came when he made a stick-back off a missed free throw that gave the Hilltoppers a 54-40 lead with 95 seconds left.
The aching LeVeau is now crafty. He’s slipping past box-outs and cutting by defenders, as he did to bank in a difficult scoop on an interior pass from Hayes midway through the second quarter, instead of simply elevating over resistance.
“I’m not getting up as high as I used to,” he said. “So I’ve got to adjust myself to where I can get around the defender.”
East had experience and firepower, but a scarcity of size.
“LeVeau dominated inside,” East coach Dag Berquist said. “He rebounded and blocked shots. He’s a quality player.”
Wheeler scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, which East began with a 17-3 run to get within 51-40 on Wheeler’s transition drive for a lay-in with 2:02 left.
But Wheeler fouled out with 1:40 left while going for a rebound against Good after Adams had made a steal and missed a transition dunk.
“It’s a tough one to get fouled out on,” Berquist said. “I don’t think that really affected the outcome of the game, but that’s a tough one. … Science Hill is well coached and prepared. So we weren’t surprising them with anything.
“And their speed and their athleticism and their depth and their basketball ability really hurt us and took us out of what we wanted to do offensively. What shots they did miss, they were able to get a lot of offensive rebounds. They’re just a good basketball team.”
The 5-foot-10 Adams’ errant dunk – he has dunked before – bounced high off the back iron, and wasn’t Cutlip’s favorite decision of the night from his point guard. There’s arguably a time for style points, but this was time for a lay-in.
“Yeah, that was the point that I made,” Cutlip said. “The two points were more important, and he understands that. And I mean, it was an unbelievable play to get the steal.”
Science Hill wasn’t playing a triangle-and-two defense, but the philosophy was not to let Wheeler and Smith (eight points) get going.
“I thought Reed did a great job matched up on Wheeler,” Cutlip said. “He’s one of the best players, you know, in the state. And I thought C.J. did a great job on Smith.”
Adams made 7 of 8 free throws in the fourth quarter and Good made a pair with 1:20 left to preserve victory.
Seeing Adams at the line late gave Berquist a bad sense of déjà vu.
“The Adams kid is the one that beat us in the region championship last year,” he said. “I mean, the kid’s ice under pressure.”
Adams finished with 14 points. Tre’vonn Fields made two 3-pointers in the first half en route to 10 points.
East finished the season 23-9.
“They’re an excellent team,” Cutlip said. “Those are seasoned kids. They were in the substate last year. Those kids know what these games are about. My hat’s off to them for not giving up and coming back the way they did.”
Beating the Indians never gets old for the Chiefs, whose loud fans’ were ecstatic with the fourth straight victory in the series during the past three years.
Point guard James Scales scored 32 points for Cherokee.
“I knew we were playing a team he likes to play against,” Cherokee coach Jeremy Parrott said. “He scored 37 last time we played them. It was our fourth consecutive win against them, and he’s been part of all of those.”
The Chiefs outscored D-B, 21-11, in the fourth quarter. Zach Elkins’ 3-pointer from the right corner on an assist from Ty Ryans (16 points) capped an 11-0 run that gave Cherokee a 58-49 lead with 3:41 remaining. The lead was at least five points the rest of the game.
D-B’s Justin Long made two tip-ins and another basket via an offensive rebound during the third quarter. His follow just ahead of the period’s horn gave the Indians a 47-45 lead.
But Scales responded with a 6-2 run – a transition leaner, two free throws and an 18-footer. The senior also scored down low on a put-back for a 55-49 lead with 4:05 left.
Scales keyed Cherokee’s upset of defending Class AAA champion Memphis Craigmont in the first year of the Arby’s Classic in December. Quick and 5-foot-10, he shares many similarities with Science Hill’s Will Adams, but playing on a deep team isn’t one of them.
“Yeah, Will probably will get to rest a little bit more than James (on Thursday),” Parrot said. “We’re gonna have to find some depth for that game. We’re gonna have to sub a little better … to try to just hang with them. … We’re gonna try to deal with Science Hill as best we can. We know they’re really good. Hopefully we can hang in there with them and be there in the end.”
Devaun Swafford (19 points), Malik Foreman (13) and Long (10) each scored in double figures for the Indians, who ended the season with an 18-12 record.