Fabulous finish

Fourth-quarter fortitude powers Rebels to state

Photo with no caption
By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Johnson City — In a fourth quarter surely to be fiercely contested, Kent Basile powered Maryville to a confident start.
The senior guard cut hard for the basket on the Rebels first possession of the final period, a twisting layup between two defenders at the rim opening a two-point lead. Maryville proceeded to come away with points on nine of its 13 fourth-quarter touches in a Class AAA sectional game on Monday at Science Hill High School. The Rebels would lose the ball by turnover on only three occasions in the decisive frame.

"Early in the fourth quarter we had two charges called on us," first-year Maryville coach Mark Eldridge said. "On those two possessions, we were trying to get to the rack, so they weren’t bad possessions.

"The big thing was they twice got up by two in the fourth quarter, and, each time, we went down and answered."

The end result was a 57-54 win and Maryville’s first trip to the boys state basketball tournament berth since 1992.

The district champion Rebels (27-7) will open state tournament play against fourth-ranked Bradley Central and Clemson signee Terrance Oglesby next Thursday at Middle Tennessee State University. Tipoff at Murphy Center is scheduled for 2 p.m. CST.

The 6-foot-2 Oglesby, who poured in a game-high 29 including five 3-pointers in the Bears 73-67 sectional win over White County on Monday, presents a tough challenge for the Rebels. The Mr. Basketball finalist journeys to Murfreesboro averaging better than 25 points per game for a Bradley Central team that enters at 33-4.

"He (Oglesby) will shoot it from anywhere, anytime," Eldridge said. "He’s very good. That might have helped us (Monday) night playing somebody (Science Hill guard Omar Wattad) who’s going to Georgetown."

Maryville set the stage for Monday’s tense fourth quarter with equal parts opening bravo and strategy. Looking to ensure his team opened confidently in front of a capacity crowd, Eldridge had the Rebels begin the game man-on-man against the home-standing Hilltoppers.

"We wanted to come out and show we weren’t going to back down," Eldridge said, "so we started in man. I knew we’d
eventually have to go zone. When we did, I think it slowed them down and let us catch our wind."

Senior Tyler Maples delivered a notable performance defensively on the Georgetown-bound Wattad.

"Somebody like that, all you can do is limit his touches," Eldridge said. "The last three shots he made were really, really tough, so you’ve got to tip you hat to him."

Wattad had only six points through three quarters.

"Tyler Maples deserves a lot of credit," Rebel junior Aaron Douglas said.

Wattad would finish with 19 to lead Science Hill, nine of it coming in a desperation burst of 3-point shooting in the final minute. No other Hilltopper would reach double figures.

Offensively for the Rebels, three players — Douglas, 19 points, Maples, 16, and Basile, 14 — would finish the night in double figures. Douglas would add 11 rebounds to finish with a double-double, with Basile, Maples and junior point guard Jordan Damron, hero of the closing seconds, adding four caroms each.

It all helped the Rebels finish even with their hosts at 19-19 after a quarter, with Maryville surprising three-time state champion Science Hill with a 33-28 lead at the half.

"One thing we talked about is sharing the ball," Eldridge said. "‘When you get a good opportunity, take it.’"

Things were even again at 39-all after three. After Basile’s opening basket, the Rebels answered the bell on every occasion in the fourth quarter to advance to Murfreesboro.

"Every time we got down two, we scored the next possession," Eldridge said. "In an environment like that, if you don’t score, you never know."

Key in Maryville’s fourth-quarter mastery was the 2-3 zone to counter Science Hill’s full-court press and up-tempo style.

Where the Rebels performed near maximum efficiency in the final eight minutes, the Hilltoppers came away empty on 10 of
17 fourth-quarter possessions.

"That (the zone) played into our hands," Eldridge said. "The tempo was definitely not what they (the Hilltoppers) wanted.

The last thing we wanted was to go up and down the court at a fast pace. The zone allowed us to slow them down. There were two or three (Science Hill) possessions where they burned 30, 40 seconds off (before shooting)."

With the speed of the game at a pace they were dictating, the Rebels were a confident team down the stretch.

"They like to play an up-tempo game," Damron said. "We just wanted to slow things down. We took them out of it."

Douglas lit the burners on a final two minutes to finish things when the 6-foot-7 center powered to the basket to give Maryville at 47-45 lead with 1:49 remaining. Damron came away with the defensive stop of the period one Science Hill possession later, picking off an errant Hilltopper pass on the other end.

"That was a huge possession," Eldridge said.

Douglas followed up the Damron theft with another bucket and an and-one free throw after being fouled. Just as Maryville looked in command, though, leading by five, Wattad slashed the deficit to two with the first of his three treys.

"He’s a player," Basile said. "He’s one of the best players we’ve seen all year, if not the best. He got his points, but we shut down the other players."

Free-throw shooting, more often than not, decides the closest games, and, following the Douglas toss, Maryville went 7-of-8 from the line in the final minute, with Damron going 4-for-4 in the final 28 seconds to keep the Rebels out front.

The Rebels twice ran out-of-bounds plays to get the sweet-shooting point guard the ball in the final 30 seconds.

"I told coach I wanted the ball," Damron said. "I always want the ball in that situation."

A sense of deja vu, perhaps, helped to steady Damron’s hand at the line. When the Rebels advanced to the state tournament in ’92, it was by way of a substate win over the Hilltoppers.

"My dad talked about that," Damron said. "I knew it was going to be tough, but we came up here and played the way we’re capable."

It’s a strong field that awaits the Rebels next week as they seek to equal the state crown the school’s football team brought back from Murfreesboro in December. The Bears have three state titles to their credit, the last coming in 1962 in the days before classification. Memphis Ridgeway, in the other half of the bracket is also a three-time champion as well, last winning the Class AAA crown in 2005.

Now that the Rebels are there, Eldridge likes their chances.

"On a given night, anything can happen," he said.

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