Bears will play in tonight’s 2-AAA championship
In the first first 10 minutes of Friday night’s District 2-AAA semifinal matchup between Sevier County and South-Doyle, Devin Schmidt made his best case for league MVP.
The SCHS senior had scored 22 points by the 5:07 mark of the second quarter on 9-of-10 shooting, to push the Bears (25-4 overall) out to a 19-point lead en route to their 68-55 win.
Schmidt’s early success came by was of his hustle on the offensive boards, to go along with a cluster of mid-range jumpers and pair of 3-pointers.
“Devin can do that. He catches fire,” SCHS coach Ken Wright said. “He’s such a great player when he keeps his mind in the game. We’ve just got to keep talking to him and telling him to stay within himself.”
Despite Schmidt’s early heroics, the upstart Cherokees (8-21 overall) — who’d suprised many with overtime wins over Seymour and Cherokee High to begin the 2-AAA tournament — weren’t going down without a fight.
Led by 6-foot-7 senior Jacob Elliott and speedy sophomore point guard Jocquez Bruce, the Cherokees fought back to within single digits by the beginning of the fourth quarter.
“We’ve done it all year, we get these double-digit leads and I’m not sure what goes through us, we stop doing what (got us there),” Wright said.
“We felt like we really wanted to make it an up-tempo game and test their legs, because they’ve had a couple of tough games here. But I give them credit, because they didn’t quit, and they’ve got good players. The Elliott kid, we don’t have anybody that can match him.”
Bruce was hurting the Bears all night with dribble penetration into the lane, which resulted in a slew of layups and feeds to Elliott, who used his size inside to net 18 points.
“That was the upsetting thing. When you play up-tempo, you’ve got to have great help-side (defense) and stop penetration, and we were horrible at help-side,” Wright said.
“It wasn’t jumpshots they were beating us with, they were just getting it to the rack, and that’s just bad on our part. That’s just not good defense. I think we got it in our head that we wanted to get it and go instead of getting down there and defending. We’re going to have to play a lot better (Saturday).”
Bruce, who finished with 22 for the Cherokees, cut the SCHS lead to four — 54-50 — by the midway point of the final stanza.
But coach Wright’s Bears maintained their composure late, focused defensively and outscored South-Doyle 12-5 down the stretch.
The stretch run was sealed for the Bears with a pair of fast-break slam dunks for the Bears, one apiece for Schmidt and teammate Logan McCarter — who had a pair throwdowns in the game thanks to his uncanny speed and leaping ability.
“Logan is a D-1 football player, and I said, ‘To help this basketball team, I need your D-1 athleticism,’” Wright said.
“When he displays the D-1 athleticism, it really helps us.”
Schmidt finished the game with 32 points, while Jacob Whaley tallied 15 in his first game back from an ankle injury late in the regular season.
Thirteen of Whaley’s 15 came in the first half when the Bears were building their huge lead.
McCarter also made double-digits for SCHS with 13 points. Cody Underwood and Weston Underwood added four points each for the Bears.
“We played hard,” Wright said. “We’ve been off for almost two weeks, so you don’t expect to be hitting on all cylinders. You know you’re going to be a little rusty,” Wright said.
“We’re proud to be where we are. It’s tournament time, and they’re all sweet. We’ve just got to keep coming out on the right end of the scoreboard.”
Sevier County will play for their second-straight District 2-AAA championship tonight at Seymour High School against Jefferson County, the tournament’s top seed.
The two teams split their regular-season contests, with each winning on their rivals’ home court.
Jefferson County topped Cocke County 48-44 to secure their spot in the championship game. Tipoff is set for 8:30.