Slowly, grudgingly, Alcoa is pulling together a basketball season.
The Tornadoes made it three in a row with a 49-43 win at Heritage on Tuesday. Turning back the Mountaineers followed wins over Seymour on Monday and Gibbs last Friday.
Prior to the Gibbs win, Alcoa had lost 11 straight.
A 5-13 record with postseason nearing is unusual for a high school program with Alcoa’s winning tradition, but that, ironically, is why Tuesday was so big.
“We’re on the floor. We’re taking charges. That’s what I like,” Tornado coach Micah Marsh said. “We’re improving. That’s the main thing, and, when you get better, you start winning. There’s no secret.”
The Tornadoes began the season down two strikes. There was the usual roll back to the start of the basketball season while the football team finished. Sharing athletes is nothing at Alcoa, only when the gridiron Tornadoes completed a precedent-setting four-peat in December, quarterback and basketball point guard Randall Cobb didn’t return to the hardwood for his senior season. The University of Kentucky commitment chose instead to use the time to ready himself for college football.
That was strike two, actually, with the first one coming long before basketball practice had ever begun. Earlier during football season, All-State receiver and basketball forward Brian Sommer was arrested on campus for possession of a controlled substance and subsequently transferred.
Left behind was a decidedly young team. Tuesday, they hung around long enough for it to be anybody’s game, then they won it.
“I was upset with them at halftime,” Marsh said. “They (the Mountaineers) were outplaying us and out hustling us.
“Heritage is a good team. They’ve got some great wins this season. They’re scrappy. They play hard and they’ve got good shooters.”
The Mountaineers led 25-19 at the half, with senior shooting guard Michael Haynes knocking down a trio of treys. Junior Adam Murr buried a fourth.
Hot-shooting junior Taylor Brown got Alcoa off to a fast start to start the second half with his third 3-pointer of the night. Chase James banked in a trey from the head of the circle as the horn sounded to end the quarter, and the Tornadoes were suddenly out front, 37-34, to start the fourth.
They would never relinquish the lead.
A James baseline jumper, a Brown run-out basket off a steal, a Reggie Garrett blocked shot, it all combined to put Alcoa out front, 45-39 with 1:28 remaining.
The Tornadoes struggled with the Mountaineers quick-shifting, trapping zone defense for much of the game, but now it mattered little. Inside the final minute, Alcoa’s defense took over, coming away with a pair of drawn charges to seal the victory.
Brown came away with his third big scoring night in as many games, pumping in 17 against the Mountaineers, including three treys. The junior shooting guard finished with 19 in Monday’s win at Seymour, rifling home 22 to get the Tornadoes past Gibbs.
Heritage’s Haynes is one of the county’s finest shooters, but it was his Alcoa counterpart of the same name who had the bigger night Tuesday. Tornado guard Michael Haynes had four of his 11 points in the final 43 seconds to help Alcoa stay clear.
The Mountaineers’ Haynes would finish with 10, held scoreless in the second half by hustling Tornado junior Sam Thompson.
Sam really stepped up defensively,” Marsh said.
Together with another strong night from Garrett underneath, it was enough.
There’s still much to be done before the District 3AA tournament at Gibbs in two weeks. Tonight’s league clash at Carter is key in maintaining some new-found momentum. It’s the hot team at postseason that, more often than not, walks away the winner. That, Marsh said, has been the aim all season.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Marsh said, “but our guys have never once commented about losing or a losing streak. It’s all about getting better. You appreciate that as a coach. The main thing is we’re playing hard.”
All tipoffs 6:30 p.m.
Alcoa at Fulton
Lenoir City at Heritage
South-Doyle at Maryville
William Blount at Farragut
Seymour at Alcoa
Farragut at Heritage
Maryville at Lenoir City
Bearden at William Blount