Tihlee Anderson scored 25 points and took command of the end game as the Blue Devils upended sixth-ranked Lebanon 54-50 in Clinch Mountain District action at Gate City.
In Tuesday’s girls varsity opener, Taylor Evans scored 12 points and the Lady Blue Devils beat the Lady Pioneers 42 -33.
To the best of Lebanon coach Thad Lambert’s knowledge, the Pioneers (12-2, 2-1) have never beaten Gate City in basketball on the Blue Devils’ home floor.
“I’ve never been to a place that’s this tough to play in,” said Lambert, whose team’s only other loss was to Sullivan Central in the Virginia High tournament before Christmas.
The Blue Devils (9-6, 3-0) don’t take their home-floor advantage for granted, said coach Scott Vermillion. Certainly not when it comes to the Pioneers.
“They’re going to get us eventually. They’re too good to hold back,” Vermillion said. “We’re liable to see them two or three more times this year. They’re awfully good.”
Jerome Cobb led Lebanon with 17 points while Cody Compton scored 14 and Andrew Jessee fired up 10.
The Pioneers threatened to roar off with it early. Compton came up with a trey with 3:09 left in the first quarter and followed up with another bucket for the 10-4 lead. Tyler Bird came out of nowhere for Gate City, hitting a pair of 3-pointers to tie it at 10 with 1:38 remaining in the quarter.
While Lebanon briefly recouped a brief five-point lead on a Cobb offensive rebound with five minutes left in the first half, neither squad could shake the other. The score was tied up nine times through the second and third periods as both teams played terrific defense.
A couple of Justin Brown free throws knotted it at 41 with 6:29 left to play. Anderson hit a pair at 6:15 for the 43-41 edge then made a great inside move off a Trevor Smith assist for the four-point lead.
“Tonight they started a triangle- and-2 and shifted to a 1-3-1. The whole time I was hoping for at least a possession lead late to pull them out and make them go man. I felt really good about our halfcourt man motion,” Vermillion said.
Anderson scored 12 of his total points the final frame, including an 8-for-10 showing at the free throw line that kept the Blue Devils a step ahead. He also collected an assist and a flashy offensive board in that stretch.
“Whenever you’ve got the lead, you’ve got to maintain it. We kept our heads tonight. We didn’t turn the ball over and we made our free throws. That was the important thing,” Anderson said.
Tuesday’s thriller provided Lambert plenty to analyze before the rematch at Lebanon.
“I’d seen them play two or three times and didn’t see them shoot free throws that well. They really shot them well tonight,” Lambert said. “(Anderson) did exactly what a point guard is supposed to do at the end of a game.”
In the girls’ game, Evans hit a pair of 3s for Gate City (4-11, 1-2), including a trifecta before the half that put the Lady Blue Devils ahead 22-13 at intermission. Rachel Horner added 10 points while Tia Vermillion scored seven.
On the defensive end, Vermillion helped to hold Lebanon scoring leader Allie Smith to four points.
Gate City committed only nine turnovers to Lebanon’s 25.
“I think we did a pretty good job taking care of the ball and making good decisions offensively. We had our moments, but overall I think it was a big improvement,” Smith said.
Heather Cox scored 12 for the Lady Pioneers (2-12, 0-3) while Kendall Helbert added 11.