BLUFF CITY — A strong shooting performance and a timely forced turnover propelled the Sullivan East boys basketball team past Unicoi County 83-76 in Saturday’s chippy District 1-AA semifinal inside the Dyer Dome.
The Patriots (21-6) hit their first six 3-point attempts to gain an early advantage, but Dillon Faver’s squad had to hold off the hard-charging Blue Devils down the stretch.
East owned a 12-point lead with four minutes remaining in the game, but that lead shrunk to five before East’s Dylan Bartley stole the ball at midcourt and converted on a layup with just over 1:30 to go.
“We were on the ropes a little bit, but we got a turnover and weathered the storm,” Faver said. “It’s about finishing and I thought we let them back in a little bit.”
Bartley led the East attack with 28 points on 8-for-18 shooting and an 8-of-12 effort from the free-throw line.
The Patriots, who will meet Elizabethton in Tuesday’s final, had three others in double figures as Ethan Bradford finished with 15 points, Clayton Ivester contributed 12 and Braden Standbridge threw in 10.
“I’m proud of my guys for hanging in there at the end,” Faver said. “I’m proud of Clayton Ivester with how he battled, taking three charges. Those are huge plays for our basketball team. Any win, even an ugly one, is a great win.”
East shot 47.1% from the field (24-for-51) and was 20 of 29 from the charity strip while limiting its turnover total to 14.
Unicoi County (16-13) climbed back in the game thanks to good free-throw shooting and timely 3-pointers after having been outscored 21-6 in a six-minute stretch that carried from the second quarter to the third.
The Blue Devils were 12 of 13 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter. However, the late mistake ruined the Erwin crew’s momentum.
“We tried to run a set and we just didn’t execute and ended up turning the ball over,” Unicoi coach John Good said. “I thought our effort was great. When you have 20 turnovers, you’re not going to beat the sisters of the poor.”
Robbie O’Dell and Lucas Slagle each had 16 to lead Unicoi County.
Grant Hensley and Tyler Clouse both contributed 10 to the Blue Devils’ cause. Unicoi County shot 24 of 55 from the floor and committed 20 turnovers.
“Everybody that got in the game competed,” Good said. “We didn’t come over here just to say we were here. We thought we had a chance to win. They’re good and you can’t make any mistakes when you play good teams.”
The Blue Devils will face Sullivan South in Tuesday’s consolation game in Colonial Heights.