“As Bobby Knight always says, victory favors the team that makes the fewest mistakes,” said D-B coach Charlie Morgan.Meanwhile, over in the Patriots’ huddle, Jefferson County coach Chris Poore was imparting a similar message to his team over the din of the pep band.
“Going to the fourth, I told my guys the (team) that makes the least mistakes will win the game,” Poore said. “Unfortunately for us, it was them.”
The Indians used an 11-1 run to grab some breathing room and then proceeded to smother Jefferson County down the stretch to secure a 63-52 victory, their 16th win in a row. The regional title also locked up a home sectional game for the Indians, who will host Oak Ridge on Monday night.
The final margin was impressive, but the win was anything but easy for D-B, which fought through foul trouble to fend off a talented and physical Jeff County squad.
The Patriots attacked the paint with extreme ferocity, looking to draw contact or crash the glass for an easy putback on the occasions when their shots didn’t drop. That soon led to foul trouble for D-B’s interior trio of John Fulkerson, Paul Gadson and Tyleke Love, forcing Morgan to shuffle his lineup on the fly.
“I think when you have a couple players on your team that can play multiple positions, it sort of helps you a little bit,” Morgan said. “When John got into foul trouble and Tyleke got into foul trouble, we had somebody to step in and help.”
When Fulkerson went to the bench with his second foul in the second quarter, Morgan shuffled the deck and brought Devin Stuart and Josh Holt into the lineup, and both performed masterfully.
“Early in the season, we were plugging guys in but they weren’t helping us,” Morgan said. “Tonight, I felt like that was the difference.”
After trailing 15-11 at the end of the first quarter, the Tribe knocked down 9 of 10 shot attempts in the second and took a 30-27 lead into halftime.
When Love — who scored 19 points and was named the tournament MVP — picked up his third foul with five minutes to go in the third period, the Indians adapted once again to keep control of the game. With Stuart playing a big role, D-B managed to stay disciplined on offense and went to the fourth quarter with a 41-40 lead.
“Devin played his best game of the year,” Morgan said. “He made good decisions and they couldn’t guard him. He was really quick tonight.”
After falling behind 43-41 in the first minute of the fourth, D-B rode an 11-1 run to a 52-44 lead with 2:15 remaining in the game. From there, the Tribe continued to lock down the Patriots on defense and take care of the ball on offense to secure the title.
Fulkerson and Makale Foreman each went 2-for-2 from the foul line in the final minute to seal the deal.
“Closure is so important in ballgames,” Morgan said. “I’ve always believed the last two minutes of a ballgame really tells a lot about your ballclub.
“I thought our defensive intensity there really won us the ballgame tonight.”
Fulkerson and Stuart scored 10 points each for D-B. Gadson, who finished with eight points, joined Fulkerson on the all-tournament team.
Bryce Cusick scored 12 points each to pace Jefferson County (29-5), which has won 17 of its last 19 games. Both of those losses have come at the hands of D-B (21-8).
Kyle Briggs and John Bryant scored 11 points apiece for the Patriots and Noah Carter added 10.