By ZACH BIRDSONG
Quickly falling behind 10-0, the West boys basketball team didn’t panic. Instead, the Bobcats chipped away at the deficit, grabbing the lead in the third quarter, defeating South 37-26 in the Central Tennessee Conference Tournament in Manchester on Saturday.
Midway through the first quarter, Justin Dedrick knocked down a basket for the Trojans, putting South in front 10-0, its biggest lead. West answered, eventually taking two brief advantages in the third quarter.
However, it was a late 7-0 run in the third period — sparked by a Jacob Dixon 3-pointer – that put West in front for good. Dixon connected for his shot with 54 seconds left in the third quarter. Krys Uselton and Joe Duncan followed with back-to-back baskets, giving the Bobcats a 27-21 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
South twice cut its deficit down to four points, putting the pressure on West. With 1:31 remaining on the clock, Jamal Blackwell hit a shot, making the score 30-26.
Holding the Trojans scoreless, the Bobcats went on to score the final seven points of the matchup. Duncan added four points in that span, while Uselton added three points of his own.
“The thing about this group is that they’ve done so well and they’ve been such a pleasure to coach that I really wanted them to get to this game and then play well, win or lose,” said West Head Coach Frank Cole. “We did that. We are blessed that we won, but I’ve just enjoyed coaching them so much and I wanted them to go out the right way.”
Duncan led West in scoring on the night, totaling 14 points, but was limited on his first-half chances as South forced the ball outside. After some halftime adjustments to counter the Trojans’ defense, Duncan put up 12 points in the final two quarters.
“Their defense forced us wider than we wanted to be, which made passes more dangerous,” Cole said. “We had to shorten those gaps up. Once we did, we were able to get it to Joe.”
After falling behind 10-0 to start the contest, West put up seven-straight points to close out the opening quarter. Mays Snipes hit back-to-back baskets for the Bobcats, while Uselton added a 3-pointer.
“We had to make easy plays easy at that point,” Cole said. “It’s hard for us to simulate their quickness. So we had to get accustomed to it for a few minutes and then we were ready to play.”
Keinen Johnson hit a basket for the Bobcats to start the second quarter, cutting the score to 10-9. Dedrick hit a pair of shots for South as Uselton added a pair of free throws for West. Duncan connected for the final basket of the second quarter as the Bobcats trailed 14-13 at halftime.
Snipes gave West a quick 15-14 lead in the third quarter, putting up a shot 19 seconds into the second half. However, South regained the edge after Ke’Andre Johnson hit three-straight free throws, giving his team a 17-15 edge.
Duncan scored five-straight points for the Bobcats, putting his team in front 20-17 with 3:30 left in the third quarter. Again though, South answered as Mook Taylor hit a 3-pointer and Za Holman added a free throw, giving their team a 21-20 edge with 1:31 left in the third period.
Dixon helped spark a 7-0 run to close out the third quarter, as West took control of the contest for good.
Uselton also finished with double figures for the Bobcats on the day, scoring 10 points. Snipes totaled eight points in the victory. Dixon put up three, while Johnson added two points to round out the scoring for West.
Saturday’s close championship matchup came on the heels of a Bobcats’ rally. In order to get to the CTC Title Game, West came back from a 20-point halftime deficit, taking down North 40-35 on Friday. The Bobcats opened their CTC Tournament run by putting up 58 points in a victory over White County on Tuesday night.
The West girls basketball team saw its CTC Tournament end in the semifinals with a tight 30-21 loss to Coffee County on Friday. Prior to that, the Lady Bobcats opened their tournament on Thursday by taking out their crosstown rival East in a 46-17 victory.
In the win over the Lady Panthers, Lucy Nutt led West in scoring, putting up 20 points in the victory. Olivia Swain added six points, while Trinity Goon and Morgan Carr each added five points.
Az’Ja White and Baylee Buchanan each put up three points for West. Gracie Morris and Liv Bowen rounded out the scoring for the Lady Bobcats each finishing with two points.
Eleanor Fults and Nyjah Gibbs each finished with five points for East. Cara Mayes totaled four points, while Emeri Saunders put up three points.
The East boys basketball team opened its CTC Tournament with a loss to South on Jan. 23. As of press time, the scorebook from that game was unavailable.