There will be an abundance of basketball played over the next few days as District Week is officially under way. It is unlikely there will be a bigger upset than the one District 7-AA witnessed Tuesday.
The Grundy County Yellow Jackets, who won exactly one district game all season, spotted the Fighting Irish a seven-point lead, then played out of their collective minds the rest of the way to claim a 72-68 victory Tuesday in Jim Phifer Gymnasium.
Notre Dame, clawing back all night behind the explosive talent of Stedman Ford, fell behind by as much as 11 points on two separate occasions, but closer never close the gap to less than three – and that came in the final minute. Despite 17 regular season wins, the Irish season is now over, while Grundy County (8-16) travels to Signal Mountain on Friday.
“Our last four games have been our best four games,” Yellow Jackets coach Justin Bryant said as his team exited a jubilant dressing room.”We're finally jelling together.”
Even Bryant was surprised by the balance his team displayed offensively. His starting five came within one point of putting all five of them in double figures, with Jacob Campbell, Levi Miller and Trevor Hampton scoring 17 points apiece.
“Jacob Campbell's performance was really huge – five 3-pointers,” Bryant said of his guard, who set a school record recently with 10 3-pointers in a game. “One of the keys was that Stedman, their best defensive player, had to play off the ball to guard Jacob.”
Bryant himself faced an early moment of truth. The Irish, loose and focused according to their coach. J.P. Nerbun, came out hitting three quick layups and a free throw, all off midcourt pressure.
“When it was 7-0, we'd had five possessions and five turnovers,” he said. “When we called a timeout, we said we just needed to start getting shots off and we'd start scoring points. That was pretty much what happened.”
The Irish, stubbornly clinging to their 1-2-2 zone throughout the night, were rocked by a Campbell-sparked 11-2 run to find themselves trailing for the first time, 11-9. They would never hold the lead again.
Grundy was able to stretch its lead in the second period by adding another weapon to the attack. Big man Trevor Rheal, a mid season transfer, found his 6-foot-5 frame virtually unattended by the Irish press and hit all five of his second quarter field goal attempts. The Jackets weren't able to recapture that magic in the second half, but Rhea still finished with a season high 12 points with a armload of rebounds.
Campbell's late 3-point allowed Grundy to take a nine-point lead into the locker room at halftime, and Trevor Hampton opened the second half scoring to give the visitors their biggest lead, 41-30. Sensing the urgency, the Irish began cutting loose 3-pointers from everywhere and it was suddenly 45-42 only three minutes into the period.
But this was a different Grundy County team than the Irish had scouted or expected. Campbell answered with two more 3-pointers and Levi Miller burned the Irish twice on fast breaks. Two minutes later, the lead was back to 11 (55-44).
In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame went more than five minutes without a field goal, but chipped away with foul shooting and got back within five, 68-63, with 2:20 left. Trevor Hampton, who caught fire in the second half, hit a layup off a Miller assist and hit a clutch free throw to make it 71-67 with :16.9 left.
Turnovers and a Miller free toss with 6.9 to play prevented the Irish to get a chance to tie the game, and Ford's long 3-pointer just before the buzzer was a solid foul, uncalled. Still, his final outing of the season with 25 points. Kareem Orr added 19 and Kealy Green 13 before fouling out for the Irish (17-11).
“That was not the Grundy County team we've seen before,” Nerbun said after a long post-game talk. “You can't scout what they did tonight. They took shots like they were going to make them. We worked really hard in the second half, and there were games earlier this year that when we got down early, that was it. We battled hard tonight.”
Grundy County 20 19 20 13 – 72
Notre Dame 19 11 22 16 – 68
GRUNDY CO. (72) – Cooper 9, Jacob Campbell 17, Levi Miller 17, Trevor Hampton 17, Smartt, Trevor Rheal 12, Brumhall, D. Hampton.
NOTRE DAME (68) – Stedman Ford 25, Kareem Orr 19, Carter, Flemester 1, Kealy Green 13, Byrd 2, Davenport 7, Harris 1.
3-point goals: GC 6 (Campbell 5, Miller); ND 5 (Ford 3, Davenport 2).