Science Hill came close enough to taste the state basketball tournament last year, and that bitterness is still in the mouths of the players.
The Hilltoppers led Knox West in the Class AAA sectional last year at home late in the first quarter when center Shannon Hale had two teeth knocked out and never returned. West won, 72-67.
“The kids were extremely disappointed with not getting the job done last year,” said Hilltoppers’ head coach Ken Cutlip. “We’ve got a lot of those kids back, and they want to find a way to get the job done at home.”
Maryville (21-8) will travel to the ’Topper Palace tonight to meet Science Hill (33-2) in a sectional contest. Tipoff is set for 7 o’clock.
In Class AA, Unicoi County hits the road to face Stone Memorial. The game will begin at 8 p.m. (EST) because Crossville is in the central time zone. Also in Class AA, Sullivan East has a home date with Alcoa.
As for Class A, Cloudland plays host to Oneida while Hampton hits the road to battle Wartburg.
Tonight’s winners earn a trip to Murfreesboro while the losers’ season is over.
Once a fixture at the state tournament, Science Hill made sectional appearances in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011, but only broke through in ’09. The 2007 loss was against eventual state champion Maryville, which also traveled to Johnson City for a substate win in 1992.
“I think the kids are confident,” said Cutlip. “We’ve been to this point quite a few times. You’ve got to get breaks, and play well.”
Maryville doesn’t bring a lot of size, but has plenty of guards and shooters.
“They are very fundamental and they like to shoot the three,” said Cutlip. “They have five guys who are capable of shooting the three. They are probably a little more physical than us. They like to walk the ball up the floor, and we want to push the ball. It’s a pretty good matchup.”
Maryville defeated Knox West twice this season, including the district final. However, West pounded the Rebels 57-35 in the region championship.
Among the key players for Maryville are T.J. Kimble, Bryan Landers and John Garrett.
“Kimble in their most athletic guard,” said Cutlip. “But it has been different kids on different nights for them. Maryville will not wow you in warm-ups, but we don’t wow people in warm-ups either.”
Science Hill counters with five double-figure scorers: C.J. Good, Zach Howard, Hunter LeVeau, Reed Hayes and Tre’vonn Fields along with point guard Will Adams.
Unicoi County (28-5) at Stone Memorial (24-10) — The Blue Devils are one of only three teams in the state to reach the sectionals the last six years, along with Memphis Booker T. Washington and Humboldt.
Unfortunately for Unicoi, it hasn’t been able to break through and reach the state tournament. Last year the Blue Devils had a big first-half lead against Stone at home, but lost Austin Hensley to injury in the second quarter and eventually lost.
“Obviously it’s disappointing to get to the sectional and not advance,” said Unicoi head coach John English. “But we’re certainly not ashamed with where the season has ended these years. To get through, it will take a rock-solid effort on both ends of the floor.”
This year’s rematch is in Crossville, about a three-hour bus ride, and both teams are similar to what they were last year.
Stone’s big threat is Brandon Cole, a 6-2 senior who scored 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Region 2-AA final against Alcoa. Brock Rowan is another key. The guard scored 40 points and drained 10 3-pointers in a 93-77 win over Knox Fulton in the region quarterfinals.
Robert Troino is another a big-time threat from the perimeter.
“Defensively we’ve got to be good,” said English. “We can’t let those guys get going on their floor. They have range. They will pull it from 25 feet.”
Unicoi County counters with Hensley and Trevor Shelton, who both average a double-double, and point guard Ethan Rice.
Alcoa (29-5) at Sullivan East (25-8) — The Patriots earned home-court advantage, but didn’t get a bargain for an opponent.
The Tornadoes lost three games in an Indiana Christmas tournament, and their only losses in the state came against Stone Memorial.
Alcoa beat Stone 70-65 in the district final, but lost 58-54 in the region championship.
The Tornadoes got key performances in the region from Kenny Dean, Gabe Dando and Matt Shown, and Tre Tate.
As for East, it leans on guards David Casaday and Chance Davis. In the paint, Daniel Truett and Jonathan King have been coming up with big efforts in the postseason.
The Patriots were in this spot in 2010, and had a shot to win in regulation. They wound up with tough overtime loss to Strawberry Plains Carter.
Oneida (25-11) at Cloudland (21-12) — Despite winning region titles in 2009 and 2010, this will be the Highlanders’ first home sectional game since 2005 because of TSSAA sanctions.
Coach Brandon Carpenter said he hopes his team uses the advantage well.
“I think we have a tremendous home-court advantage,” said Carpenter, whose team seeks its fifth state tournament berth in the last seven years. “We’re sure glad we get to play at home.”
The opponent has a big-time scorer in sophomore guard Cole West.
“He’s already scored 1,000 points,” said Carpenter. “He’s an extremely good athlete, and he likes to go to the hole.”
Another key player is 6-7 post Jake Wright, a fourth-year starter who can score inside and out.
Cloudland counters with Taylor Whitehead, who is averaging 15 points per game in the postseason. Whitehead also hit game-winning shots in the region semifinals and finals.
Zac Potter is averaging 16 points per game on the season while Jeff Rhinehart has averaged a double-double in the postseason.
Hampton (20-15) at Wartburg (24-4) — It’s a huge task for the Bulldogs, who face Class A Mr. Basketball finalist Alex Fountain.
The 6-7 junior is averaging 23.3 points per game, and figures to be a matchup nightmare for Hampton. Another key for Wartburg is senior Brad Richardson.
Hampton will try to win a road game and reach the state for the second straight season. The Bulldogs made it to the semifinals last year with a senior-laden team.
Cody McClain is Hampton’s leading scorer, averaging 14 points, four assists and two steals per game. Wes Murray is a scoring threat while Tyler Trusler had 21 points and 17 rebounds in the region semifinal win over University High.