JONESBOROUGH — Zone defenses.
Daniel Boone clearly is a big fan. Elizabethton, not so much.
The Trailblazers, backed by a muzzling 3-2 zone, defeated the Cyclones 54-50 on Friday night to reach the finals of the 19th annual Hardee’s Classic, hosted by David Crockett High School.
Physical — and unwavering — Boone kept the Cyclones off balance for most of the night. Except for parts of the fourth period, they simply could not find space in the zone to penetrate.
And, possessing a feeble touch from the perimeter, it was always going to be an uphill battle.
Elizabethton made just 2 of 22 3-point attempts on the night.
“We wanted them to beat us from outside,” Trailblazers coach Ryan Arnold said. “They hurt us late by getting some penetration, but we decided early that if they were going to beat us they were going to do it by hitting shots.
“And, you know, I think we did well. For the most part, they took a lot of 3s. That was our game plan.”
Still, the Cyclones found themselves in the game late.
They eventually tied the game for the first time since it was scoreless on two free throws from Spencer Bradley with just under four minutes remaining. However, missed foul shots coupled with a host of rushed possessions allowed the ’Blazers to escape.
“We decided at halftime that we had relied solely on the 3 and we were going to take the ball inside from now on,” Elizabethton coach Marty Street said. “And it worked. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Ryan Thomas slashed his way to 15 points for the Cyclones. Kyle Wash had 10, all arriving in the second half.
Nick Jones led a very balanced Daniel Boone offense, finishing with 16. Jordan Gray added 11. The ’Blazers will meet Unicoi County — an 84-66 winner over host Crockett in Friday’s nightcap — tonight at 8:30 for the tournament title. “Our goal was to have a good start to this season so we’re feeling good right now,” Jones said.
University High 48, Sullivan North 47
Ten unanswered points erased a six-point deficit and propelled the Junior Bucs into the Hardee’s Classic fifth-place game. UH (3-1) trailed 43-37 midway through the fourth but rallied behind Josh Phillips. The senior’s foul shot with 24.4 seconds left accounted for the final margin. Post Jonathan Evans collected 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Alex Denton added 13 points. “Honestly, we were very fortunate to get out of here with a win,” said University High coach Justin Penley, whose team will face Sullivan East today at 5:30 p.m. Senior Eric Herring anchored the Golden Raiders (0-2) offensively, finishing with 21 points. William White chipped in 10 for North.
Sullivan East 67, Cherokee 46
The Chiefs established a comfortable 17-2 advantage within the first five minutes. Turns out, it was hardly a comfy spread. East outscored Cherokee 22-3 for the rest of the half, then closed the door with a 27-11 third period. Given the Patriots’ unconvincing start, it was an unlikely — but decisive — performance. “We didn’t start out very well,” East coach John Dyer said. “I thought Cherokee had the spirit about them and we didn’t. Then we woke up. “We’re a team trying to find its identity. We’re young. We’ve got good players; we’ve just got to come together for 32 minutes.” Jordan Cross led three Patriots in double figures, finishing with a game-high 16 points. Spark plug Jo Jo Johnson, who stands 5-foot-5, netted 11, while Zane Campbell had 10. No player reached double digits for the Chiefs (0-3). Josh Steward recorded eight, while Jeremy Luster and Brandon Laster had seven each.