BLUFF CITY — Every possession in the postseason is precious.
The Sullivan East boys basketball team learned that lesson the hard way Monday night in the TSSAA Class AA sectional against Knox Fulton at the Patriot Palace.
Turnovers and missed opportunities cost the Patriots dearly and they saw their season come to an end with a 56-50 defeat at the hands of the Falcons.
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for East (27-8), which committed 21 turnovers, and its eight seniors.
“Coaching this team has been the journey of a lifetime,” an emotional Patriots coach John Dyer said after the game. “They played like champions all the way. They are just the greatest bunch of guys.”
Fulton (24-8) earned a berth in next week’s state tournament quarterfinals at Middle Tennessee State.
With so much at stake, both teams played nervous basketball in the opening quarter. Missed shots and turnovers by both squads left the score tied at 8 heading into the second quarter.
Both sides then settled down and began to play more deliberate ball. By halftime, the Falcons had slipped ahead 24-21.
“We knew coming up here that we’d have our hands full,” said Fulton coach Jody Wright. “I have a great deal of respect for Coach Dyer. That zone they use was tough to deal with because of their length.”
With the Falcons nursing a tenuous 26-24 lead, the game took a turn their way. A 7-0 run put Fulton ahead 33-24 and produced some much-needed breathing room.
“The turnovers hurt us,” Dyer said, “but it was our inability to keep them off the glass that was the difference. They just had too many second chances.”
Fulton extended its advantage to 10 points, 44-34, with 3:49 left in the game.
But the Patriots had one last charge left in them.
A 6-0 run, capped by a 3-point shot from David Casaday, brought East to within four, 44-40, with 2:23 to go.
Fulton pushed its lead back to 47-40 before another trey by the Patriots’ Austin Fleenor again narrowed the gap to four with a minute showing on the clock.
East, forced to foul, sent Fulton to the free throw line. The Falcons hit 9 of 10 shots from the charity stripe, soaring to a 56-47 lead and icing the win.
Casaday, a senior, finished with a game-high 26 points — hitting a 3-pointer on the final shot of his high school career just as the buzzer sounded. He knocked down six 3s on the night.
Brody Stone led Fulton with 14 points.
“We made some stops down the stretch and made our free throws late,” Wright said. “I thought our defense in the second half was solid.
“To come up here and win is what you have to do this time of the year,” he said. “I told the guys before the game, ‘If you’re not tough enough to win on the road, you’re not tough enough to go to Murfreesboro.’ ”