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Blue Devils land first top-six Arby’s Classic finish

By JOSH FLOYD, TriCitiesSports.com • Dec 31, 2017 at 1:56 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Mac McClung achieved individual glory — but not team glory — some 366 days ago.

On Saturday, though, McClung and Gate City landed individual and team honors all at once.

View the photo gallery from the game

Gate City’s heralded senior reached the 2,000-point milestone for his illustrious high school career late in the fourth, capping a 13-1 spurt for the Blue Devils and a 66-54 victory over Lakota East of Ohio during Saturday’s sixth-place Arby’s Classic showdown inside Viking Hall.

“It’s great that we got that win,” McClung said. “Our team really came together.”

The sixth-place hardware was Gate City’s first top-six showing. Coupled with Dobyns-Bennett’s fifth-place win later that afternoon, it was the first time multiple local teams placed in the Arby’s Classic since 2001.

“(McClung) wanted to win the whole thing, which we didn’t do,” said a smiling Gate City coach Scott Vermillion. “I’m super proud of my guys for winning sixth. We’re certainly playing together, and we grew up a lot.”

Last year’s tourney saw McClung — who hit the 1,000-point career mark almost exactly one year ago — amass a whopping 82 points, but the Blue Devils lost three heartbreaking games by a combined 15 points.

Fast-forward to this year’s tournament, a memorable four-day run in which the Georgetown signee compiled 138 points, narrowly missing the all-time record of 147 set by Archbishop Malloy’s Sundiata Gaines 14 years ago.

“He’s impressive,” Vermillion noted. “I’ve just not seen a better one around here. He can score, he can handle the ball and he can pass. Last year, he shot about 34 percent from 3, and we talked about that in the offseason. He’s worked on shooting over the offseason.”

This time, though, the Blue Devils went a sparkling 3-1 — with Saturday’s game speaking far more about Gate City’s versatility and reaction to the ultimate adversity. That’s because McClung, who still compiled a game-high 28 points and 10 rebounds, got into major foul trouble for the first time this season after being whistled for his third infraction on a charge with 2:47 before halftime.

“I was thinking, ‘Don’t foul anymore,’ ” McClung said. “It happens. It’s part of the game.”

The recipe was almost perfect for the Thunderhawks. With McClung out the rest of the half, the patient Ohio squad tallied the final five points — including Will Johnston’s 3-pointer from the baseline just before the buzzer.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen a better-coached team,” Vermillion said. “They executed their offense so well, plus they got shots from people they wanted shooting it. I was really impressed with them.”

With McClung’s foul woes and a cool start from the field, teammates Zac Ervin (19 points) and Bradley Dean (14 points) balanced the attack. Ervin hit two critical early 3-pointers to halt Lakota East’s initial momentum, and Dean came up big in the second half.

Dean twice swayed the lead toward Gate City, first on a trey with 3:10 left in the third and later with his old-fashioned three-point play that gave the Blue Devils (7-1) a 49-48 edge with 4:57 left.

“He has the potential to do that,” Vermillion added. “We forget that he’s a sophomore. I thought he was big during the whole tournament.”

Jarrett Cox’s twisting layup moments later granted Lakota East (3-6) its final lead. And while McClung started to take over immediately thereafter, the ’Hawks missed six straight attempts.

“We got to the fourth quarter and had some great looks at it,” said Lakota East coach Clint Adkins, who got 16 points apiece from Cox and Bash Wieland. “The guys we wanted were shooting the ball, but the ball didn’t go in. Every time the ball went up, it looked good. Unfortunately, we just missed some shots down the stretch.”

McClung went 7-of-11 over the final 16 minutes,including a long trifecta over two defenders with 4:05 to play.

“When you’re hitting 25 footers, there’s only so much you can do,” Adkins said.

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