Science Hill, a program known for in-your-face pressing defense, went to a 1-3-1 zone for a large part of Thursday's Region 1-AAA boys basketball championship against Dobyns-Bennett at David Crockett High School.
It worked to perfection as the Hilltoppers held the Indians to just 10 points in the first half on their way to a 37-35 championship victory. It also avenged a loss to D-B on the same court just two weeks earlier in the district championship.
Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip gave credit to his assistant coaches and players for the game plan which secured the Hilltoppers fourth straight regional title and the seventh in eight years.
"My assistant coaches came up with this game plan," Cutlip said. "Then our kids came in and executed the plan they put together. It was a little out of character for us, but as one of our coaches said, 'We've got to throw something at them that they're not expecting.'
"The last two games we had played them, they took advantage of our pressure and they got off to early leads. We got behind the 8-ball because they had a lot of confidence when they got up by 8-10 points. Tonight, they missed some shots and it gave us an opportunity where we were able to pull it out."
Science Hill (24-8) will host Powell (21-11) in next Monday's sectional round with a state tournament berth on the line. Dobyns-Bennett (29-7) will have to go on the road to Bearden (36-1).
In addition to the home berth and region title, it was sweet revenge for the Hilltoppers — who held D-B to just five points in both the first and second quarters and just eight points in the fourth.
"Coach told us in life you don't get a lot of second chances," Science Hill wing Junior Danso said. "The stars fell in alignment where we were playing in the same building and we came out a lot better, a lot stronger and a lot faster. But they're a great team and they played to the end."
AT THE BUZZER
Danso was right about the Indians not giving up.
They were down 37-33 after a pair of free throws by tournament MVP Jerriah Love with 1:16 to go. D-B didn't score until 14 seconds left on a bucket by Charlie Browder, who was fouled on the play. He missed the free throw and Marae Foreman came up with the rebound.
After winning on a buzzer-beater against Jefferson County two nights earlier, the Indians didn't have the same magic and missed at the buzzer this time.
Still, they had rallied from a 20-10 halftime deficit to pull ahead 27-24 in the third quarter on a 3-point shot by Riamello Wadsworth.
Browder had 15 points and seven rebounds while Wadswoth totaled 11 points and eight rebounds. Foreman, however, was held scoreless.
Love and David Bryant scored nine points each as no Hilltopper reached double figures. Sophomore Jake Matherne, playing several minutes in a matchup against Browder, finished with six points and six rebounds.
Tate Wheeler grabbed eight rebounds, while Drew Morrison had five rebounds and Love finished with five rebounds and two assists.
"After the way the last time turned out, this is a good one," Love said. "We looked forward to this game since we lost to them the last time. We played that zone and we took them out of their game. Then they came back and we had to adjust. It feels great to be the champions. I've been wanting to go to state my whole life and this could be the year."
It was the second time in three nights D-B rallied from a big deficit to have a shot at the end.
"I'm proud of our guys’ effort, especially battling back when things weren't going well for us." Indians coach Chris Poore said. "They were very passive and they played like Jefferson County did and gave us problems. I thought we were a little too passive on offense and didn't shoot some shots when we were open. You're not going to shoot very well when you do that."