All week long, the Bulldogs’ scintillating guard duo of tournament most valuable player Ques Glover and Trent Stephney dazzled crowds with their fancy dribbling in the open court and clutch shooting. In the title game, however, the unsung hero was post player Marcus Brown, who was a warrior in the lane against the Cougars.
After outscoring Carmel Christian 21-7 down the stretch, the Bulldogs returned home with the champion’s hardware as the only team from Knox County to be in the finals and win the prestigious boys basketball tournament.
The Bulldogs will be looking to carry their momentum into this weekend when they travel to Memphis to face two more high-caliber opponents: Hamilton Heights and Raleigh-Egypt.
Other takeaways from the 36th edition of the Arby’s Classic:
FROM NORTHEAST TENNESSEE
Dobyns-Bennett: With a huge statement win, 68-51 over Gate City in the sixth-place game, the Indians proved they’re definitely the team to beat in the Big 7 Conference. They held a dynamic Blue Devils duo of Bradley Dean and Zac Ervin — who were averaging a combined 61 points per game entering the contest — to a combined 34 and 1-of-15 shooting from 3-point range. D-B coach Chris Poore’s defensive strategy was brilliant and Marae Foreman had his best game of the season so far, finishing with 29 points.
Science Hill: The Hilltoppers showed signs of cohesiveness against a talented Carmel Christian team in the first round. They never trailed by more than 13 points until late in the loss, when the Cougars made most of their free throws. A setback against D-B in the losers’ bracket was Science Hill’s second loss to the Indians this season, both by 10 points. Turnovers have troubled the ’Toppers all season, as has at times their inability to hit 3-point shots. Coach Ken Cutlip’s squad is still developing and will continue to get better, especially behind the solid play of big man Jake Matherne.
Sullivan East: Coach John Dyer’s squad came so close to a stirring first-round upset of Mount Bethel (Ga.) on Thursday, but a late string of turnovers proved to be the turning point. The Patriots did win in impressive fashion over Tabernacle Baptist but were torched in the next round by Gate City and Dean, who went off for a career-high 43 points. Sullivan East loves the 3-point shot and when it’s going in, the Patriots are even harder to stop with the constant pressure they apply on defense. Dyer can take a lot of good things from the tournament and help set up his team for a run at the Three Rivers Conference title.
Tennessee High: The Vikings nearly beat Buford in the opening round on their home court, but it wasn’t in the cards for Roby Witcher’s squad. The next matchup, against Morristown East and its talented guards, was also close, but the Vikings were eliminated in two games. With the Hurricanes a threat to make a run at the regional crown and Buford one of the best teams in Georgia, Tennessee High can take away positives from the tournament — including holding Buford’s Marcus Watson, an Oklahoma State commit, to a tournament-low seven points. Behind Christian Webb and a talented corps of guards, the Vikings have the capabilities of being one of the top teams in the Big 7 come conference play.
FROM SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA
Gate City: The Blue Devils came agonizingly close to a first-round win over Wenonah (Ala.), but Cameron Tucker hit an open layup under the basket with less than two seconds left to hush the pro-Gate City crowd. Gate City cruised through the next two games then ran up against a tough defensive D-B squad. The Indians forced everyone but Ervin and Dean to take shots and the ball just didn’t drop. The loss showed that if the defending state champion Blue Devils want to make another deep postseason run, they must find a consistent third scoring option like Dean provided last year as a strong complement to Ervin and Mac McClung. And with Radford’s 20-plus-points win over Graham last week, the Bobcats right now look primed to avenge last year’s state quarterfinal loss to Gate City.
Union: With star senior post player Wes Slagle going down with a knee injury before the tournament, the Bears had to go searching for a consistent first scoring option. Well, they found it in freshman point guard Andy Jones, who scored in double figures every game and had 20 points or more each of the last two against out-of-state teams. If Jones can carry this momentum into district play, the Bears should contend to be the second-best team in the Mountain 7 District behind Gate City.