Big 9 Conference champ Science Hill ended Dobyns-Bennett’s season Tuesday night with a 65-53 semifinal win before some 4,500 fans at the Buck Van Huss Dome.
D-B, with the nation’s winningest program, will find its all-time victory total of 2,064 frozen in time — at least until next November.
In the other semifinal, Inter-Mountain Athletic Conference champ Morristown East had to hold its breath on an eleventh-hour tip-in attempt to beat Tennessee High 54-53.
Science Hill (29-4) and Morristown East (25-7) both qualified for the TSSAA sectionals. The region winner will get to host a game next Monday while the loser must travel to Knoxville — most likely facing top-ranked Bearden.
Science Hill, beating D-B for the third time, bolted to a 7-1 lead and never trailed.
“The game was lost early with our transition defense,’’ D-B coach Charlie Morgan said. “I don’t know how many layups (the Hilltoppers) got in the first quarter. We didn’t get back in time.
“We just didn’t handle the pressure. You’ve got to be able to take care of the ball against Science Hill. They have confidence and will go after you. The hardest-working team is the last one to surrender.’’
Science Hill’s pesky defense shut off D-B’s lanes.
“We didn’t get the points in the paint that we usually do,’’ Morgan said. “It’s hard when you have to rely too much on jump shots.
The Hilltoppers’ big three — Chris Smith, Josh Odem and Larry Smith — combined for 52 points, one fewer than D-B’s entire team. Chris Smith led with 19, followed by Odem with 17 and Larry Smith with 16.
“Larry told us before the game he was ready,’’ Odem said. “He got some good steals and key baskets.’’
Smith drove at will. “I’ve been ready since I woke up this morning,’’ he said. “This was my best game of the season.’’
Ken Cutlip, the Science Hill coach, said an upgraded defense has been vital to his team’s 17-game winning streak. “We’ve continued to improve on the defensive end. Our half-court defense is a lot more solid than it was at the start of the season. We’ve been limiting opponents in the paint.’’
D-B’s leading scorer was flashy Justin Sylvester with 16 points. Todd Halvorsen added 12.
“We didn’t come out running what we were supposed to,’’ Halvorsen said. “We got behind the 8-ball to begin with and fell too far back to catch up. But everybody played their hearts out.’’
East took the battle to Tennessee High for a 26-15 halftime lead. The Vikings reversed that after intermission and the game came down to a final desperation shot by THS.
His East team trailing 53-52, freshman guard Casey Smith hit an 8-foot runner with 12 seconds to go. THS then failed to get off a controlled shot after East’s Justin Sandifer tied up the ball in a scramble on the floor.
It was the Vikings’ possession with one-tenth of a second remaining. Corey Young inbounded with a pass near the rim to Mason Canty, whose last-gasp tip went awry.
“That’s about all you can do with just that much time left,’’ Canty said. “I got only a part of my hand on the ball. I guess it was Morristown East’s night to win.’’
THS coach Roby Witcher said the margin between advancing and getting eliminated was razor thin. “We were one loose ball and one basket away,’’ he said. “We just couldn’t get that one possession we needed.’’
East coach Mike Wright said the final shot seemed like an eternity. “In your mind, you’re thinking the game is over but you’re scared to death.’’
IMAC Player of the Year Austin Gardner, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, led East with 24 points — three more than his average. His first six field goals were 3-pointers.
Smith’s defensive performance was just as big.
“Casey played toe-to-toe all night and did a good job guarding Young,’’ East coach Mike Wright said.