KINGSPORT — Sullivan South stepped behind the 3-point line to build an early lead against Sullivan North in the championship game of the New Peoples Bank Holiday Classic on Saturday night.
But when it came time to protect that lead, the Rebels stepped up to the foul line and sealed the deal.
The Rebels knocked down nine 3-pointers — all in the first three quarters — to get ahead of the Golden Raiders before hitting 20 of 21 foul shots in the fourth quarter to close out a 73-62 victory.
South’s road to the tournament title included three close games, with one going to overtime. South coach Mark Pendleton said the fact his team prevailed in all three should give his players some momentum.
“That’s outstanding, guys stepping up and doing their job,” Pendleton said. “You hit those free throws at the end of games, you remember that. That builds your confidence.”
South led by double digits in the early going behind a flurry of 3-pointers. The hot-shooting Rebels knocked down seven 3s in the first half and were on the verge of blowing open the game in the second quarter before North clawed its way back.
“I knew they were dangerous, I was just hoping they’d do it in one half — I didn’t know they were going to do it in both halves,” North coach Jay Gregory said. “Everything was a 3 or a free throw, it seemed like.”
As usual, Chase Arnold shouldered much of the scoring load for North, finishing with a game-high 27 points.
But the emergence of Grayson Ball allowed the Raiders to stick right with the Rebels until the final minutes of the game. Ball, who missed some games early in the season with an injury, ended up with 20 points.
North was able to pull within three points of the Rebels on three difference occasions in the fourth quarter. But trailing 58-55 midway through the fourth, the Raiders were hit with a foul call followed almost immediately by a technical.
Ryan Headrick proceeded to knock down four straight free throws to spark a South run that pushed the lead to 66-55, and North was never able to get back within striking distance.
“We got frustrated tonight. We’ve got to work on that,” Gregory said. “We’re letting some things affect how we play late in games, and I don’t like that. The officiating, that’s just part of it, and we’ve got to deal with it.”
Headrick was a perfect 12-for-12 from the charity stripe and finished with a team-high 21 points. Needless to say, he got more than his share of contact in the rough-and-tumble contest.
“That’s the roughest game I’ve ever played in my life,” Headrick said.
Michael Harr added 19 and Evan Headrick scored 15 on the strength of a 10-for-12 effort from the foul line. South hit 28 of 31 free throws as a team.
South’s strong finish may have been the key to the game, but Pendleton said he was pleased with the way his players put together four solid quarters.
“We wanted to get off to a better start,” he said. “We talked about playing 32 minutes, and our guys did that. They came out with great effort.”