The Smoky Bears created half-court opportunities and cashed in with a tough Region 1-AAA basketball championship, edging Dobyns-Bennett 56-55 on Thursday night at Snyder Gym.
“I thought the guys did a good job in the motion,” said Sevier County head coach Ken Wright. “They read the screens and made the proper cuts. D-B is so well-coached defensively. I’m always impressed with the job Coach (Chris) Poore does. I knew we would have to work hard, and we did. Nothing was easy.”
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That included the finish, as D-B’s Marae Foreman made a 3-pointer at the buzzer while leaning into a Sevier County defender. He didn’t get the call for the trey-and-one, and the Indians were one point short.
It was the first region championship for Sevier County in 28 years, dating all the way back to 1991 — one year after the Bears’ heartbreaking last-second substate loss at Science Hill, when the Hilltoppers went on to win their first-ever state basketball championship. The Bears didn’t have to travel to Science Hill in 1991 because of winning the region title, and they made it to the state tournament before losing to eventual champion Memphis Hamilton in the quarterfinals.
“We’re just so happy to win it,” said Wright. “I’m so proud of our guys.”
Sevier improved to 24-6 and earned a home game for Saturday’s sectional round against Oak Ridge.
For the Indians, it created a familiar road. D-B will travel to play Region 2-AAA champion Knox Bearden (28-5) for the second straight year. The game is set for 7 p.m. on Monday. The Bulldogs hammered the Indians 70-44 in last year’s sectional matchup in Knoxville.
THE UNCLIMBED HILL
Dobyns-Bennett was never more than an arm’s length away from the Smoky Bears, but there weren’t any real comfort moments for the Indians.
Sevier County led 16-13 after one quarter and held advantages of three to five points for much of the second quarter before Foreman’s and-one opportunity gave D-B a chance to tie at the break. Foreman missed the free throw, and Sevier led 29-28.
The Tribe took a handful of third-quarter leads, including one four-point edge at 37-33, but Sevier responded with seven straight points to retake the lead. D-B was unable to catch the Bears again.
NUMBERS DON’T TELL THE STORY
Sevier County’s individual performances were not awe-inspiring in terms of pure numbers. But the sum of the Smoky Bears’ parts is greater than the whole.
“They can shoot it from all five positions and take you off the dribble from all five positions,” said Poore. “When they attack and they are spacing the floor, it’s really hard to defend. It’s one of the best teams we’ve played this year. It was a tough out for us.”
Marvin Castro (14 points, three assists, two steals) was the go guy for Sevier County at the point. Wesley Maples (17 points, five rebounds) delivered points down the stretch. Camden Burden (11 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals) was a paint problem for D-B as was Camden McElhaney (eight points, eight rebounds, three steals).
Leading by four points with 5:39 to go in the game, Sevier County was in major foul trouble with Maples and Burden each having four. But the Bears erased part of the issue by eating two minutes off the clock with a superbly executed delay game.
“They showed why they are a tough team,” said Poore. “They close games well. They were the tougher team tonight.”
D-B appeared to be in trouble when Charlie Browder went out in the first quarter with two quick fouls. But while Browder was forced to sit the rest of the half, Jared Strickland was a crusher on the offensive end — scoring and battling on the glass. He had 13 points before the break and grabbed three rebounds.
“I thought he played well,” said Poore. “He definitely gave us a chance. He kept us in the game.”
Strickland also played a role in Burden’s foul trouble. Burden had six points and five rebounds before picking up his third foul in the late stages of the second quarter.
Foreman led the Tribe with 16 points and added three assists. Strickland finished with 15 points and five boards.
Brit Thomas hit a trio of treys for nine points while Chase Jenkins had five assists. Browder totaled six points and seven rebounds.