Gate City’s all-state guard missed most of the first half of the Blue Devils’ non-district game with J.I. Burton. He was attending a funeral service for his grandfather, Marshall Long, who passed away Sunday.
The Blue Devils (5-4) ultimately held off the ambitious Raiders 71-68.
Anderson, who entered the game with 3:29 remaining in the first half, had been kept apprised of the game’s progress via text messaging.
“I had to rush over here real quick. Some of my coaches kept me involved and told me what the score was and everything,” said Anderson, who was overcome with emotion after the game.
“I’ve got a great family. They told me to play for my grandfather. That’s what I tried to do tonight.”
In lieu of his usual No. 12, Anderson wore jersey No. 45 in honor of his grandfather’s birth year.
Anderson finished with nine points, three assists and a lot of intangibles that kept Gate City in the thick of it with Burton (1-5), which was clearly energized by the return of guard Jaycob Coleman.
Coleman, who missed the early season after undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus, scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Raiders.
“Coleman makes them a lot better,” said Gate City coach Scott Vermillion, whose squad won by almost a 30-point margin in their game at Norton.
“They were one guard short when we played them last time. He really completes their guards.”
In yet another wrinkle, Burton surprised Gate City by applying full-court pressure for the entire game despite relying on only seven players. Raiders coach Stan Wilson also studied the easy layups Gate City got the last time — and reconfigured his defense to take that away.
“My hat’s off to Coach Wilson. I told our kids before the game that he’s going to have something to take us out of what we do. And he certainly did — the whole game,” Vermillion said.
All the more impressive that Gate City was trailing only 25-24 when Anderson joined the squad.
Trevor Smith helped take up some of the slack, scoring nine of his team-leading 20 points in the first half.
“Usually (Anderson’s ) leadership helps us out. I knew that with Tihlee out, I had to step up and score for my teammates,” said Smith, who also grabbed 11 rebounds.
Jordan Potts also came through big for the Blue Devils, scoring 17 of his 19 points in the first half. He hit five 3-pointers, giving Gate City the 35-31 halftime lead after stroking three consecutive trifectas in the final two minutes of the second quarter.
The remainder of the game was a crowd-pleaser, with the lead changing 11 times in the second half. With Gate City leading 54-50 heading into the fourth quarter, the Raiders got a big lift from guard Devin Talley, who pulled off a couple of “and-ones” as he scored 10 of his total 15 points in the final frame.
While Anderson put Gate City ahead for good when he slashed his way to the hoop for the 69-68 advantage with 1:12 remaining, his younger teammates loomed large in the final three minutes. Wes Hughes scored four of his seven in that stretch. Austin Arwood, who scored nine, gave Gate City the crucial three-point margin with his finish at the end of a press-solving relay with 16 seconds showing.
Wilson had nothing bad to say about his team.
“We certainly played better than we did the last game. It was a tremendous effort,” he said. “Gate City has a great basketball team and they’re hard to beat over here even if they don’t have a good team. So we’re real pleased, even though we got beat.”