GRAY — After flirting with disaster on Tuesday, Science Hill left nothing to chance in the Region 1-AAA championship game.
Senior point guard Will Adams piled up 21 points and six steals, helping the Hilltoppers roll to their third straight regional title on Thursday with a 70-48 defeat of Sevier County at Snyder Gym in Gray.
Science Hill (37-2) will shoot for its second straight state tournament berth when it hosts Maryville in the sectional on Monday. The same two teams met last year in the final game in the ’Topper Palace.
Maryville (27-7) lost 71-54 to Oak Ridge (27-5), which will host Sevier County (28-5) on Monday.
The Hilltoppers’ postseason life momentarily hung on the rim in the form of Jefferson County’s potential game-winning buzzer-beater on Tuesday, and though already assured of living to see another day, Science Hill was motivated to secure one more home game in its new gym’s debut campaign.
Science Hill forced 24 turnovers while committing 10 against the Smoky Bears. Sixteen steals fueled the transition game, and they came in flurries from the get-go. Senior C.J. Good (14 points, five assists, four steals), junior guard Calvin Songster (14 points) and Adams each had a steal and transition basket in a 20-second span which Adams capped with a pull-up 18-footer that made the score 8-3 after the Smoky Bears had opened the game with a Cody Underwood 3-pointer.
“We talked about how we were lucky to get that win the other night,” said Adams, who was named regional MVP for the second straight season. “Tonight, we just wanted to come out and make sure we got it under control.”
Another Underwood trey capped a 5-0 run that got Sevier County within 24-18 with 5:32 left in the first half, but Adams responded with two straight baskets that ignited a 22-3 run which stretched the lead to 46-21 with 7:17 left in the third quarter.
Freshman point guard Patrick Good (four assists) fed Adams on a baseline cut for the run’s first basket, and C.J. Good assisted Songster’s left-handed lay-in for the 46-21 lead.
Adams, C.J. Good and Songster each accounted for two of Science Hill’s eight treys.
“Shooting the ball well makes a big difference, because then when we knock down shots early we’re able to get in that press early,” Hilltoppers coach Ken Cutlip said. “And I thought our press was real productive. It got us some steals that led to good shots and we knocked those down.”
Sevier County, playing its second game since leading scorer Devin Schmidt was dismissed from the team following his arrest for domestic assault on Saturday, spewed turnovers during the decisive run that silenced its large, boisterous following.
“You’ve got one day to prepare with a bunch of kids that were nervous and they don’t understand that they’re matching up, they’re not trapping you,” Sevier County coach Ken Wright said. “So it’s five on five. And we kept trying to pass the ball instead of dribble it up and force the rotation. … The nerves got to them. …
We let them get happy with steals. When you’re throwing the ball away it’s hard to be methodical, you know?”
Reed Hayes had 17 points and six rebounds for Science Hill. Fellow senior Marc Aples had a team-high seven rebounds and beat the halftime buzzer with a 3-pointer that gave Science Hill a 41-21 lead.
“We were able to close the quarter hitting that shot,” Cutlip said, “and it kept the momentum going for us.”
Logan McCarter led Sevier County with 18 points. Underwood added 14.
Wright was happy to see his team play Science Hill almost evenly (29-27) in the second half.
“We’re a player down,” Wright said, “but we haven’t lost our heart. … They (the Hilltoppers) have got great players. They’ve got basketball players that can play the game.”
Indeed, Science Hill has won 37 games this season after winning 35 last season and 34 in 2010-11.
“Whoever shows up in the ‘Topper uniform for us year in and year out, they wear that with pride,” Cutlip said. “And I think that’s evident by how they go out night in and night out and compete. An amazing run by these guys.”
Another solid performance against Maryville will be necessary to reach the state tournament.
“They return everybody from that team last year,” Cutlip said. “They gave us all we wanted last year.”