CROSSVILLE — Stone Memorial had too many weapons, and the Panthers won the game on the little things, too.
The Panthers held off a late Unicoi County challenge and then ran away for an 82-62 victory in a Class AA sectional basketball game Monday night at Stone’s gym.
It was a season-ending loss for Unicoi, which finished 28-6.
“I told them every team in the state ends on a loss except the state champion, but it doesn’t make it any easier to handle,” said Blue Devils coach John English. “The goal is to maximize your team, and getting here is quite an accomplishment. People wrote them off before the season, and they went on to win 28 games and got into the championship mix.”
Stone (25-10) earned its second straight state tournament berth at the expense of the Blue Devils, and will play next week in Murfreesboro.
The Panthers were not only good, they were scrappy. They outrebounded the bigger Blue Devils 19-11 in the second half. Stone also got to a few more loose balls, forced turnovers with hustle, and constantly harassed Unicoi County when it did get rebounds.
“I told the kids we couldn’t be weak with our post-entry passes, or our dribbling or rebounding,” said English. “That’s an aggressive group and they play strong every possession.”
Things started well for Unicoi as the game was tied 10-10 in the first six minutes. However, Stone closed the quarter with a 7-0 run.
Unicoi battled back to 20-17 before Brock Rowan hit a 3-pointer that ignited a 9-2 spurt by Stone, which took a 41-29 lead into the locker room.
The Blue Devils stayed within shouting distance in the second half, and trailed 59-48 entering the final period. That’s when they went on a 9-4 run to close within six points at 63-57.
However, Issac Harris tripped over a defender on the next possession and Rowan took advantage with a trey ball. Stone scored eight points in 44 seconds and finished the 10-0 run in a 56-second span to seal the deal.
“To come in here on the road against that quality of team, you don’t have to play perfect but you’ve got to make almost every play out there,” said English. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, and then they had some runs where it looked like they would blow us out, to be down six with six minutes to go speaks to the heart of these kids.”
Stone’s big three did their thing, with Brandon Cole totaling 20, Rowan finishing with 19, and Robert Troino scoring eight. However, Justin Simmons was a crushing factor for the Panthers as he totaled 12 of his 19 points in the second half — including a crowd-inspiring dunk near the end of the third quarter.
“With them you have to pick your poison,” said English. “You’ve got to start with those three, and then it’s really hard to take everybody away. Simmons took advantage of his opportunities, and he made some big, big shots.”
The Panthers knocked down 10 of 22 shots from 3-point land. Rowan led with four, and five different players hit treys.
Unicoi got a huge effort from Trevor Shelton. He finished his standout career with 25 points and nine rebounds.
Austin Hensley also came up big with 17 points, six rebounds, and four steals. Connor Simpson added eight points and seven rebounds.
Ballhandling hurt the Blue Devils as they committed 19 turnovers.
“With what Region 2 comes through all year, it’s just a different level of play when you get here,” said English. “It’s hard for us to simulate what you see here. We put seven guys out there in practice, and go five on seven.”