Science Hill was in such a comfy spot Monday night with a TSSAA boys sectional home game and a chance to move on to Murfreesboro, yet the Hilltoppers were outplayed and suffered a 58-48 defeat at the hands of Knoxville Powell.
Veteran head coach Ken Cutlip could only shake his head about the performance of his Region 1-AAA champions.
"You work and work like we have and you're blessed and fortunate to get to where you want to be, and then to come out and not perform it just makes you sick,'' Cutlip said.
"I'm extremely proud of what this team did all year to be only one of eight triple-A teams that was hosting a sectional game ... but I'm highly disappointed about tonight. Bottom line is we didn't play well enough to win the game.''
The 'Toppers may have sensed some trouble when Knox Powell's Caleb Tripp banked in a running 3-pointer from straight on at the first-quarter buzzer.
It was a sign of things to come, as the Panthers would shoot 51 percent from the floor compared to Science Hill's 38 percent.
Powell (22-11) led 17-7 after one period and upped its advantage to 29-11 with 4:13 left in the second quarter.
"Our execution in the first half was not what we've come to expect from this group,'' Cutlip said. "We did not play well together out there. We were trying to do too much on our own and it put us in a huge hole.''
But the Hilltoppers would come back.
"I expected us to come back and we were able to do so behind our defense,'' Cutlip said. "And we put ourself in position to win the game.''
SHHS finished the second quarter with a 9-3 spurt to get back to within 29-20 by halftime. And behind the strong inside game of Tate Wheeler and the perimeter play of Jerriah Love, the 'Toppers gained temporary control of the game.
Science Hill made 8 of 15 shots in the third quarter to assume a 41-39 advantage heading into the final frame.
However, the home team could not maintain its hold.
Knox Powell guard tandem Joshua Woods and Desmond Billingsley turned the 'Toppers over on four straight fourth-quarter possessions and the Panthers were able to make up a 43-39 deficit.
"That's been the staple of our team, to get down 18 points and then come back and lead by four in the fourth quarter,'' Cutlip said. "But our inability to take care of the ball and make shots, well, we started poorly and we finished poorly.
"And that took us down."
POWELL OWNS FOURTH
The Panthers took the lead for good at 48-46 on a driving layup by Woods, a savvy senior who finished with 15 points.
In the game's final 2:35, Powell scored on five of seven possessions while Science Hill (25-9) missed six of its final seven shots from the floor.
Tripp led the winners with 17 points, while Wheeler paced SHHS with 17.
Afterward, Powell fourth-year coach Gary Barnes was emotional.
"We've worked so hard,'' Barnes said, fighting back tears. "We started the year 2-6 and in November we came up here and had 27 turnovers in a 15-point loss.
"Now we're 22-11 and headed to the state tournament. It's unbelievable, just unbelievable. But we earned this. We played with poise tonight.''
Barnes received an 11-point game from Westin Raynolds.