That’s because Harriman lost in the Region 2 final to an Oneida team it had beaten three times previously, sending the Blue Devils to Brooks Gym for Monday night’s sectional contest at 7.
At stake will be a trip to next week’s state tournament in Murfreesboro.
Harriman (27-7) brings postseason experience into a game the Buccaneers (28-5) hadn’t reached in 10 years. The Blue Devils were Class A state champions in 2017.
“Obviously they know what it takes to win in the postseason,” said UH head coach Justin Penley. “Their guys have played in a lot of big games, and won’t get rattled easily. They are experienced, tough and talented. They play extremely hard and fast.”
In another sectional game, Johnson County (27-6) hits the road to play Knox Fulton (25-4) for a Class AA contest. Also, Dobyns-Bennett (30-4) visits Knox Bearden (28-5) in a Class AAA battle.
Penley’s team has no reason to shrink away from the challenge. The Buccaneers lost just one game all season to an in-state Class A team, a two-point loss to Hampton. Since then UH has won nine in a row.
“We need to play disciplined, smart and confident,” said Penley. “We will need to look to score in transition, but also value the ball. Taking care of the ball is vital, so we aren’t fueling their transition game.
“Our guys obviously know what is at stake. I want them to play with great effort and enjoy the moment.”
Leading the way for Harriman is 6-foot-4 Jaylen McCullum. He’s a perimeter guy who can score from anywhere on the court.
“He’s the engine that drives the team,” said Penley. “He causes matchup problems because he is an excellent shooter as well as being able to penetrate. He has the size, athleticism and skill to finish at the rim.”
Another key player is 5-10 point guard Trezdin Copeland. He can beat people off the dribble and is the Blue Devils’ second-best scorer.
UH counters with Kaleb Meredith, who averages 18 points, seven rebounds and 2.5 steals per game. Another standout is Marshall Fleenor (12 points, 4 assists) while Colin Daniel and Charlie Vargo are 3-point weapons.
Longhorns at Falcons
Austin Atwood made it clear: Johnson County is going to Knoxville with a mindset of winning.
“They believe they can win,” said the Longhorns’ head coach. “Without a doubt that’s one of the things I like about these guys. They will not be intimidated.”
Fulton wrapped a 25-1 mark around a three-game losing streak that began with a Dec. 29 loss to Maryville. Fulton started the new year with losses to Hardin Valley and Austin-East, but followed with 15 straight wins — including two victories over A-E, the most recent a 59-56 decision in the Region 2-AA championship.
The Falcons were state runner-up last year, losing a 60-58 heartbreaker to Memphis Hamilton. They won the Class AA state title in 2016. In its history, Fulton has five state titles and five runner-up finishes.
Leading the way this year is DeShawn Page, a three-star linebacker and Marshall football signee. He’s a left-handed post player who had 27 points in the Falcons’ region semifinal win over Alcoa.
Point guard Edward Lacey also figures to give the Longhorns some issues.
“He’s by far the quickest kid we’ve played all year,” said Atwood.
Guard Trey Davis is the Falcons’ best shooter, Atwood said.
But the biggest issue Johnson County faces is Bearden’s defense.
“They will play half-court man, get up in us, and deny every pass,” said Atwood. “They are pretty physical and super athletic.”
Blake Atwood, a Mr. Basketball finalist who usually faces stacked defenses, may have some room to operate.
“They will double him some,” Austin Atwood said. “But they’ve got a couple of boys I think they believe can guard him.
“We haven’t played this type of athlete all year, other than in the Bahamas tournament. And against the team we played that was athletic, Blake had 39 points. But they weren’t as well coached as we will see Monday. (Fulton coach) Jody (Wright) does one of the best jobs in the state defensively, if not the best.”
Atwood said the players around Blake Atwood — Zach Eller, Gavin Reece and others — will have to play one of the best games of their careers.
Johnson County made this same trip in 2003, leading 13-0 at the outset and by four at halftime before losing 61-53.