Unbeaten Bears take Shootout title
One holiday tournament down, one more to go.
The Sevier County Smoky Bears posted a 56-43 win over the Oakland (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) Patriots in the finals of the Sevierville Winterfest Shootout Saturday night at SCHS.
The undefeated Bears (12-0) charged out to a lopsided 26-8 lead early and battled through a tough second-half to seal the tournament championship and keep their perfect season alive.
Now the team will have three days off before heading to the Renasant Bank Tournament in Maryville on Wednesday, where again the squad will face a pool of top-notch talent eagerly anticipating dealing the Purple and White their first loss of the season.
Saturday night Oakland and coach Mike Wright — son of Sevier County coach Ken Wright — had the honor of trying to snap the Bears’ streak.
It didn’t go well for the Patriots (8-3).
Tough Sevier County defense and poor shooting for the Pats saw the game’s first eight minutes go by with just one bucket for the visitors.
“Their Achilles heel right now is shooting the basketball,” Ken Wright said of the night’s opponents. “We’re normally a pressure-man (defense), and we went to what we call a pack-line, a sagging-type man. Because their inside guys, they’re the ones that can kill you. We didn’t want them to beat us in the paint. If they beat us, it was going to have to be from the outside shooting jump-shots. I felt like if we could keep them from scoring in the paint, that we’d have a chance.”
Wright’s plan worked to perfection.
By midway through the second, 13 points from leading scorer Devin Schmidt and a pair of 3-pointers from Jacob Whaley and Micah Baker had lifted SCHS to a 26-8 advantage.
The Patriots finally started converting some hoops, however, and by half had cut the lead to 11 at 31-20.
The third quarter saw the Bears maintaining their lead and winding down the clock with long possessions on the offensive end of the floor.
A beautiful behind-the-back pass from Schmidt to teammate Logan McCarter for the senior’s first-career slam — a two-handed throw-down from the left side of the rim — ignited the Bears’ crowd and sent the team into the final quarter with all of the momentum.
“Devin has the ability to make some incredible passes,” Wright said. “(And) When Devin does something like that it gets the crowd into (the game), so that’s great.”
Wright was also pleased with McCarter converting his dunk attempt.
“Logan’s always been able to dunk,” he said. “But that’s the first one he’s actually taken the chance and dunked.”
The game’s final frame was much like the fourth, with the Bears biding their time and making plays when they needed to to keep the lead in double-figures.
When the last buzzer sounded, Wright embraced his son, and the elder coach and his team held aloft the championship plaque and their individual medals.
“I told you at the beginning of the season that I like this team,” Wright recalled. “I was excited about this team at the beginning of the season, and I felt like if they worked hard and we really just got after it and stuck with it that we had a chance to be a pretty good basketball team, and they are.
“The games that we won here we played really well. That’s just two super wins over a very, very good basketball teams the last two nights,” he continued.
“These kids deserve all the credit. They’ve busted their tails, and they’ve done everything asked of them, because they want to win, and they are winners.”
Schmidt finished the night with a game-high 24 points, while teammates Brent Delozier and Jacob Whaley had seven each.
“It was everybody we put in (that made the win possible),” Wright said. “It wasn’t just one guy. Devin’s legs were burnt after last night. Still he did some incredible things, but Jacob Whaley running the ball club — that’s not easy — (with) the last two nights bringing the ball up-court against pressure, and he did a great job.
“I’m also really proud of Brent Delozier battling back from being benched (earlier in the tournament) and coming back and starting tonight and playing well and playing hard. It’s just little things that people may not notice, but it’s spread through everybody on this team.
“I’ve got to give (credit) to everybody on this ballclub.”
Weston Underwood added six points, while teammate Austin Pope had four and Baker and McCarter notched three each.
Now the Bears will have some time off before heading to tournament round two — the Renasant Bank Tournament in Maryville, where they’ll face more tough challenges, including the likes of Austin-East, Brainerd, Stone Memorial and Maryville.
“That’s what we wanted to do over Christmas,” Wright said. “We wanted to really test ourselves and see how good we could be. I’m going to give them three days off here, then we’re going to do a shoot-around here on the 26th and then we’re going to go play Austin-East at 4 o’clock in Maryville in their tournament.
“It’s tough competition over there, and we’ll have four more days of what we had here. Maryville’s coming off substate and didn’t graduate anybody, so I think they’re naturally the favorites.”