ELIZABETHTON — Little things matter, and Sullivan East came up big — especially David Casaday.
The Patriots’ senior totaled eight points in the waning seconds of the first three quarters, including two buzzer-beating 3-pointers, and finished with 28 points to lead his team to a 55-47 victory over Elizabethton in the Region 1-AA basketball championship Thursday night at Treadway Gym.
It was the third region title in four years for East, which improved to 27-7 and will play host to Knox Fulton in Monday’s sectional at 7 p.m. Fulton was a surprise 64-58 overtime loser to Corryton Gibbs in the Region 2-AA final.
Elizabethton, which saw its 10-game winning streak snapped and fell to 25-7, will travel Monday to play Gibbs.
East not only got the eight late-quarter points — six coming after Elizabethton missed a shot with eight to 10 seconds left — the Patriots also scored nine points on in-bounds-under-the-basket plays. On each occasion the Cyclones lost Casaday, who knocked down three of his six 3-pointers and was chosen as the tournament’s most valuable player.
“We always work on getting the last shot,” said East head coach John Dyer. “In high school ball, that’s three momentum plays every game.
“And we take pride in our out-of-bounds plays. We treat that like everything else.”
Elizabethton head coach Lucas Honeycutt said his team didn’t respond to the out-of-bounds plays like they should have.
“Those in-bounds plays are easily guarded, if everybody stays matched up,” said Honeycutt. “We were too lax, and didn’t have a sense of urgency to find them. We were walking around when they handed the ball in, and we should have been pointing and talking.”
Even with those extra points, East still had to struggle for the win. The Patriots got breathing room twice, 35-24 in the third quarter and 46-36 with 5:45 left in the game.
However, Elizabethton came back each time, including a 7-0 run to make it 46-43 with 2:16. A few seconds later, Alex Baughman had a wide-open look from 3-point land.
Like many people in the gym, Honeycutt thought the good-rotation shot was going to fall.
“I was telling him to shoot it,” said Honeycutt. “He’s hit big shots, but that one didn’t fall.”
From there to the finish, East won with free throws. The Patriots made 9 of 12 before two meaningless misses by Casaday with 12 seconds left.
Casaday appeared to be locked in from the get-go.
“It’s the regional championship game,” said Casaday. “The whole team wanted to come out and give it our all.”
Defense was the key to East’s victory. Patriots’ guard Jordan James hounded Elizabethton point guard Zeke Clark all night, sometimes denying him the ball and holding him to four points and three assists.
“Zeke is a great player and he makes everything go for them,” said Dyer. “That was our game plan. Jordan James did an outstanding job on defense.”
Another key for East was Jonathan King. The 6-9 senior post finished with eight points and dominated the paint with 16 rebounds.
Dyer said the third region title was sweet.
“I think it probably means more because of how tough it was to get here,” said Dyer. “It took 26 years to get the first one.”
Will Robinson was the stabilizing force for the Cyclones. He finished wit 13 points and totaled nine rebounds.
However, Robinson and others missed some free throws that led to a 4-for-12 team performance from the line — a tough stat to swallow in an eight-point loss.
Michael Wagner battled hard in the paint for a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Sophomore Tyler Nichols provided a spark off the bench for the Cyclones, totaling nine points.
Overall the Cyclones didn’t appear to play with the same swagger that carried them to this point.
“Maybe it was a combination of trying too hard or maybe they were a little nervous,” said Honeycutt. “I thought we played hard. I think we weren’t as confident as we needed to be.”