Primed to open the 36th annual Arby’s Classic with another win, the Gate City boys basketball team fell victim to a late Wenonah rally and suffered a 69-68 defeat Thursday night at the hands of the bunch from Birmingham, Ala.
Wenonah (16-2) won it when Cameron Tucker scored with two seconds to play, converting a baseline layup off a nice feed from a penetrating Justin Minter. The game winner completed a comeback that saw the Dragons overcome a 62-54 deficit in the game’s final 2½ minutes.
Gate City, which suddenly found itself down by a point after a Tucker 3-pointer with 23 seconds to play, had gained a 68-67 lead on a Bradley Dean driving layup with 11 seconds on the clock.
“Perseverance,” said Wenonah coach Audwin Howard. “This is my fourth year with these guys who came here as freshmen and we’ve been through a lot of battles through the years.”
The Blue Devils (4-1), who lost for just the third time in their last 35 games, missed three well-defended but makable shot opportunities over two possessions and turned it over on another to open the door for the Dragons.
“Offense sells tickets, but defense travels man. Defense travels,” Howard said.
Gate City coach Scott Vermillion tipped his hat.
“There were a couple things,” he said. “Maybe we shot a little quick once, I’m not certain ... and they hit that banked 3-pointer (Tucker’s shot from the wing that made it a 62-59 game with 1:55 to play).
“Of course you’d like to have been able to seal the deal up by eight, but an eight-point lead against a good team is not a whole, whole lot.
“Wenonah had a great team effort to get the win,” Vermillion added. “Their coach must be proud.”
BLUE DEVILS SURGE
Gate City struggled early and trailed by as many as 11 points, 21-10, in the second quarter before Zac Ervin began to warm.
A 6-foot-5 senior who finished with 19 points in the first half and 37 for the game, Ervin brought the Blue Devils back to within 26-22 by halftime.
Gate City then owned the third quarter after Dean came to life in a big way.
The junior point guard scored 23 of his 26 points in the second half, and Gate City ran out to as much as a 13-point lead late in the third period.
“I thought our guys played really tough and we were really resilient after getting down (11),” Vermillion said. “And then coming out in the third quarter and really taking it to them.”
Tucker, a 6-3 guard with a knack for getting to the rim in addition to displaying a sweet 3-point stroke, finished with 23 points to set the offensive pace for the Dragons, who shot it much better than the Blue Devils.
“Cameron Tucker is a big-time player,” Howard said. “Reputation of a gamer.”
The 6-9 JaDerryus Eatmon made 7 of 7 shots from the floor and scored 14 critical points for Wenonah, and teammate Jayden Sanders kicked in a dozen.
BLUE DEVILS VS. GREENE DEVILS
Gate City next plays Friday at 1:30 against Greeneville, which fell to Orem of Utah 66-50 on Thursday.
Wenonah meets Orem on Friday at 9:30 p.m.