KINGSPORT — Unicoi County witnessed firsthand just how far Sullivan North has come under second- year boys basketball coach Mitch Cox.
The Golden Raiders pushed Unicoi for three-plus quarters Friday night before unraveling in a 62-49 home loss.
“It just showed our guys that we can play with anybody, we can beat anybody,” Cox said. “A game like tonight should give our guys some confidence and we’ll build off that.”
Most of that building appeared to go on during Friday’s contest.
The Raiders (8-8, 2-5 Watauga Conference) answered nearly every question thrown at them by the Blue Devils, including one that certainly could have decided the game before halftime.
Leading 25-22 in the second frame, North turned over the ball — and sparks ensued.
Unicoi guard Cameron Miller scored off the turnover, also drawing a foul from Matt Williams. Williams’ intervention was deemed intentional by the officials, and the North guard subsequently picked up a technical foul arguing the call.
Six free throws later — four by Miller — and the Blue Devils (16-2, 8-0) led 30-25.
Unicoi coach John English said the eight-point possession was crucial.
“I don’t know where we would’ve been without that, to be honest with you,” English said. “They had all the momentum and were playing well.”
Intensity levels rose significantly following the swing — on the floor and in the stands — but the Raiders kept their cool, saw out the half and eventually grabbed a lead early in the third period.
It was something Cox was glad to see, though he felt aggrieved by the officials’ decision.
“I’m not going to lie, it was a horrible call,” Cox said. “We’re down five at the end of it, but that’s not the big deal. It’s putting three fouls on (Williams). It’s unfortunate, but we responded well from it.”
North’s third-quarter lead lasted only briefly, the Blue Devils’ responding with a 12-2 run that marked the last time the lead would change hands. A 9-2 surge midway through the fourth effectively sealed the win for Unicoi.
Miller had a game-high 18 points to lead the Blue Devils.
“That was the kind of game that reminded me of a tournament game,” English said. “If you’re going to win championships, you’ve got to come on the road and survive. It was a gritty game and we just found a way to win.”
North received 17 points from Eric Herring. Dustin Doran had 14 for the Raiders, who were a paltry 4-of-14 from the foul line.
“We make half of those and we’re right back in the ballgame,” Cox said. “It’s something we have to live with. Our guys played hard and that’s all you can ask for.”
Setting the table for a sweep, the Lady Blue Devils cast aside the Lady Raiders 69-31 in the night’s opener.
Relying on relentless full-court pressure, Unicoi (11-6, 6-1) established a 28-4 advantage after one period. A 45-10 lead at the break proved insurmountable.
“We had a really good game,” Lady Devils coach Glenn Fisher said. “We shot the ball well and our press worked early.
“It was just a good overall game for us.”
All 12 Devils scored, led by Alisha Mainer, who finished with 13 points. Jennifer Edwards added 12. For North, Stephanie Cook posted 13 and Heather Harmin had eight. Senior Merissa Williams scored four off the bench.
“(North) had a good stretch there in the second quarter but, defensively, we did a good job,” Fisher said. “Hopefully we can keep this going.”