It only took Honaker’s boys 24 hours to return the favor.
The eighth-seeded Tigers held off a furious second-half rally by the top-seeded Blue Devils on Wednesday night to earn a 63-59 victory and advance to the semifinals of the Region D, Division 2 tournament.
“We’ve been down here before and sort of got shook, got intimidated a little bit with the way Gate City plays,” Honaker coach Waylon Hart said. “We weren’t intimidated when we came in here tonight.”
Indeed, the Tigers took the lead late in the first quarter and never trailed as they eliminated Gate City, which lost a regional quarterfinal contest on its home floor for the second year in a row.
“What can you say? They deserved to win,” Gate City coach Scotty Vermillion said. “Unfortunately, that’s basketball.”
Honaker led by as many as 10 points early in the third quarter before Gate City finally came alive.
The Blue Devils came all the way back to tie the game at 44 on a shot in the lane by Jordan Potts with 5:16 to go in the fourth quarter. Honaker’s Ethan Davis responded immediately with a 3-pointer to quell Gate City’s surge.
“When it got tight there, we came back with a couple shots that really answered quickly and didn’t let them get the momentum building,” Hart said. “We scored in some pretty crucial spots there in the end.”
The score was tied again at 54 in the final two minutes, but Clark Dye hit a pair of foul shots with 1:30 left to give the Tigers the lead for good. Honaker made 9 of 13 foul shots in the final 90 seconds to ice the win.
“They hit their free throws and we missed some free throws,” Vermillion said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Dye led Honaker (12-12) with 16 points while Cory Brown scored 15 and Justin Hall had 14.
Trevor Smith scored 19 to lead Gate City (14-9) in his final game as a Blue Devil. Potts added 17 points while Paul Arnold had 15.
The Tigers built a 29-24 lead at the half thanks in part to great defense and second-chance points. Honaker grabbed eight offensive boards in the first half while Gate City managed just seven defensive rebounds.
Hart said he wasn’t surprised by that stat. In fact, he was expecting his team to clean up on the offensive glass.
“We watched the film on (Gate City) and saw how they worked around in front of the post quite a bit,” he noted. “We said, well, that will be fine because we’ve got inside position for offensive rebounds if they’re going to front us in the post.”
The game started to tilt in Gate City’s favor, however, as the second half wore on. The Blue Devils were able to get the ball into the paint consistently and score from point-blank range.
Potts, Smith and Arnold all took turns scoring on an impressive array of post moves, allowing the Blue Devils to creep back into the contest.
But in the end, Honaker simply made too many plays.
“We turned over the ball a few times and dug ourself a hole,” Vermillion said. “I thought we were about to dig out in the fourth quarter and they came down and hit a big 3.”
Honaker advances to face Haysi at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Castlewood. Hart is hopeful his team can bring the swagger it showed on Wednesday into the regional semifinals.
“I don’t want to say we took it to them, but we didn’t back down like we did in the past,” he said. I thought we played a tremendous defensive game and made the plays at the end that broke it our way.”