KINGSPORT — A frenzied second-half comeback by Sullivan North fell four points short Tuesday night and the Golden Raiders fell 53-49 to Sullivan East in a Three Rivers Conference matchup.
Although his team trailed for most of the night, North coach Jay Gregory couldn’t find fault with the opening moments of the contest, when the Raiders built a quick 8-0 lead over the Patriots.
Two back-to-back steals by Trevor Williams and Kairi Thompson forced East coach John Dyer to call an early timeout.
After its quick start, North’s offense fell flat. East’s pressure defense held the Raiders scoreless for the last four minutes of the first quarter.
The Patriots’ David Casaday led the way for East with 17 points, including four shots from 3-point range.
Several turnovers by both teams kept the game close for much of the first half until East went on an offensive tear. Senior guard Austin Fleenor sank two 3-pointers in the second quarter to push the halftime lead to 31-20.
Despite trailing by double digits, North put together a strong defensive showing in the second half. The Golden Raiders held East to 22 points in the second half, cutting its lead to one possession with less than 90 seconds to go in the game.
The Raiders’ fate was sealed, however, when East guard Jordan Jones sank two foul shots with 10 seconds remaining.
Following the game, Gregory said East’s long-range shooting prowess, combined with his team’s 1-for-15 showing from 3-point range, was the primary reason for the loss.
“Even when you’re playing well, it’s still really hard to beat a team that can shoot the ball that well. They have a starting lineup that can sink the ball from anywhere on the court,” Gregory said.
North’s defense finished with 14 steals and seven blocks.
Senior Chase Arnold led the Raiders with 21 points, including a 7-for-7 showing at the charity stripe.
“We did everything we planned to do. We’ve been working hard for two days, we had a good game plan and we did it exactly like we wanted to,” Gregory said. “We just came up a little short in the final score.”
With three games left before the start of the District 1-AA tournament, Dyer believes the victory will help his team prepare for the postseason.
“This was a good experience for our team,” Dyer said. “This is exactly the kind of games we’re going to face when we get into the district tournament next month. We’re not going to have any easy games in the postseason.”
Both teams will continue Three Rivers play this Friday night. North (11-8, 2-3) travels to Johnson County and East (20-6, 7-0) returns to Bluff City for a rematch with Elizabethton.