Trailing much of the evening against inspired John Battle, the Blue Devils owned the fourth quarter and claimed a 73-63 league road win over the Trojans.
“That’s a testament to the quality coach, quality program and quality individual that (Battle coach Jon Odum) is, that his kids play as hard as they do for him,” said Gate City coach Scott Vermillion. “They ’bout got us tonight.”
But the Trojans (7-4, 1-2) couldn’t finish the job, thanks to Vermillion’s all-star tandem of Zac Ervin and Bradley Dean.
The 6-foot-5 Ervin, who scored his 2,000th career point just three nights ago, tallied 16 first-quarter points and poured in 33 total to lead the Blue Devils, but it was the 31-point outing of the gifted Dean that may have saved Gate City.
A 6-2 junior guard who scored all but two of his points over the final three periods, Dean also is closing in on 1,000 career points.
“So much defensive attention is paid to Zac, and rightfully so,” Vermillion said. “Then Brad, my gosh, they double-team him as well.
“If we can come out of a double or triple team and get the ball to the other guy one-on-one for a split-second before another double team comes, then we have a little space to operate. Those two have played so much ball that their skill level has improved so much over the years. ... Brad’s ability to drive and get it to the hole and change directions and finish is just phenomenal.”
The Blue Devils (8-2, 4-0) got all they wanted in the first half from Battle and then some. The Trojans held a 40-35 advantage at intermission and still led by three points just before the final tick of the third-quarter clock.
Dean was fouled while shooting a 3 at the third-quarter buzzer and hit all three foul shots, deadlocking the game at 51 heading into the final period.
A reverse layup by Dean to start the final stanza put Gate City ahead to stay, before Jon Compton nailed an important 3-point jumper to help the Devils assume a 56-51 advantage.
The hustling Trojans could get no closer than one point thereafter.
Dean and Ervin each hit 3s and driving layups to create a 10-2 spurt and boost Gate City’s lead to 66-57 with 3:45 left in the game.
“John Battle outplayed us in the first half and somebody had to step up and start being a man, to help Zac carry the load,” Dean said. “That was my mentality in the second half and that’s the position I’m in with this team.”
FOR THE TROJANS
Caden McConley scored 17 points to lead the Trojans offensively, but the senior guard got excellent support from Isaac Deel, who scored 16, and Reed Samuel, who contributed 13.
“I think we were a little tired the last eight minutes after having to do all we had to do to defend those two great players,’’ Odum said. “But the kids left it on the floor and showed we could go toe to toe with the defending state champs.
“Hopefully that’s something we can build on down the road.”
LADY DEVILS ROLL
Sarah Thompson did her thing and led Gate City’s girls to an easy league win on the road, 53-25 over John Battle.
A hard-working sophomore, Thompson led the Lady Blue Devils in scoring as is often the case, dropping 23 on the Trojans. Jaden Fullen and Riley Houseright scored eight apiece to back Thompson.
Gate City (8-2, 3-1) led 25-12 at halftime and 45-17 through three quarters.
Bethany Smith scored eight points to pace Battle (3-8, 0-3),