The Lookout Valley basketball team found one thing and recouped another Friday night. Now it will try to take care of business over the next two weeks and see if the discoveries are enough to deliver it a District 4-A regular season title.
The Jackets took a big step in that direction with a 72-53 thumping of visiting Tellico Plains last night and in doing so got a little bit of its swagger back after two recent losses by a combined six points.
“Oh man, yes … we needed that,” said Lookout Valley guard Larry McCullough.
“We prepared for tonight like it was a big game and treated it as a big game. We had a game plan and we stuck to it. They beat us with a buzzer beater at their place and we needed to see what we were made of tonight.”
And aside from the recapturing of their stride, the Jackets found something that might be even more important than the pep in their step. Jaylen Bates, an 8th-grader, made his first start of the season and calmly put up a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, and get this, the youngster only missed one of his 10 shots and immediately rebounded it and put it back in.
“We went 11 days without even one practice between the weather, kids being sick with the flu, and I was sick too. Then we showed up to play and promptly lost two games in a row last week. We had an excellent practice yesterday and our minds were right tonight. We definitely feel better about some things after this one,” said Lookout Valley coach Eric Ford.
As for the decision to go with Bates, Ford simply went back to the film of the first encounter with the Bears and knew the timing was right.
“Jaylen got the start because he has practiced hard and he is very agile down low with his big body. Up there, they didn’t do a great job guarding our post people because they put so much pressure out front, so we felt like if we could take care of the ball and get it to him in a good position he would take care of the rest,” said Ford.
Added McCullough: “We wanted to find our big guys.”
Another key takeaway from the victory was the Jackets ability to guard the perimeter.
“We gave up 13 makes from behind the line to them in the first game with our zone, so we played a lot of man tonight. But even when we went to the 3-2 zone, Riley (Phillips) and Larry did a great job running the baseline to get to the shooters. Both of those guys really love to play defense and that makes a difference,” Ford said.
Phillips was a human deflector shield, getting his hands on passes all night long and wound up with five steals to really frustrate the Bears as the visitors turned it over 18 times on the night, nine times in each half.
Lookout Valley’s Ryan Barber hit a big 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter to give the Jackets a boost and lead after one at 14-11. Darion Robinson added another momentum builder with a three-point play the old fashioned way just before the half to make it 29-26 at the break in a quarter that saw the Jackets make all but two of their nine shots.
With a full half under his belt now along with nine first half points, Bates took over in the third period as the Jackets extended the lead to 45-36. Bates scored eight points in the stanza as Lookout Valley used an 8-2 run midway through the period.
“I was talking with one of my coaches and we both agreed that we really peaked too early in the season. We have played good basketball with the exception of handling the ball at times. Since we had hit that peak, it’s hard to get a lot better, so it was important for us to make better decisions and get better shots. We did that tonight,” explained Ford.
Lookout Valley (15-5, 4-2) won 13 of its first 15 outings before the recent cold (and flu) stretch and the final half looked a lot like that early-season squad. The Jackets had only three turnovers in the final half and shot 53 percent in the game on 30-of-57 shooting.
And in the final quarter the trio of guards – McCullough, Robinson and Moore – took over, combining for 20 of the Jackets’ 27 points.
The guard trio accounted for all 18 points during a18-5 run that turned a precarious 47-42 lead into a 63-47 game that all but put the Bears away.
Tellico Plain’s Piper Carter did his best to keep the Bears in it with 10 of his 18 points coming in the fourth period, but it was not to be on this night.
Aside from Bates’ 18 points, Moore added 14, McCullough 13 and Robinson 12. Tellico Plains (11-9, 4-1) got the 18 from Carter and 13 more from Jesse Lambert. Lambert hit three 3s but the Bears only manage to get off seven shots from behind the 3-point line, a stark contrast to the 13 makes in the last meeting.
With just two weeks left in the season now, Lookout Valley is still a game behind the Bears in the standings with CSAS looming close as well in the three-team race for top honors. The Jackets are done with both in the regular season now earning splits with each, but Tellico and CSAS have a big one looming in the final Tuesday of the season.
Tellico Plains girls 80, Lookout Valley 28: The sixth-ranked Lady Bears all but clinched the regular-season title with a 3-point blitz that began with the opening tip. Tellico Plains (19-1, 7-0) hit five of its 11 treys for the game in the opening quarter en route to a 25-3 lead. The Lady Bears put another 25-3 quarter whipping in the third period to hand the Lady Jackets their second District 4-A loss.
It was Tellico Plains 17th straight victory and the Lady Bears have won by an average margin of 36 points during the impressive run with just two teams playing them to within 20 points. Chloe Yearwood and Samantha Russell led the winners with 22 and 21 points, respectively and teammate Jaden Hollinghead added another 18. Callie Kirkpatrick was also good for another 13 to round out the double figure scorers.
Lookout Valley (10-11, 5-2) was led by Casey Crownover’s six points.
Tellico Plains 11 15 10 17 -- 53
Lookout Valley 14 15 16 27 -- 72
TELLICO PLAINS (53) – Crace 4, Cain, Teague, Brinkley, Shaw 9, Lambert 13, Carter 18, Rhinehart 7, Tallent, Harris.
LOOKOUT VALLEY (72) – Robinson 12, Moore 14, C. Dixon, McCullough 13, Ray 3, J. Dixon, Phillips 4, Barber 3, Patel, Bates 19, Daniel 4.
3-point goals: Tellico Plains 4 (Lambert 3, Shaw); Lookout Valley 2 (Robinson, Barber)
Tellico Plains 25 13 25 17 -- 80
Lookout Valley 3 11 3 12 -- 29
TELLICO PLAINS (80) – Kirkpatrick 13, Russell 21, Yearwood 22, Pearson 4, Hensley, Watson, Hollinghead 18, West, Burnett 2, Lance.
LOOKOUT VALLEY (29) – P.Millraney, Barber 10, Crownover 6, Reed 2, Morton 3, Spence 3, Sanders 5, M.Millraney, Smith.
3-point goals: Tellico Plains 11 (Yearwood 5, Russell 3, Hollinghead 2, Kirkpatrick); Lookout Valley 4 (Crownover 2, Spence, Morton).
(Contact James Beach via email at email@example.com or Twitter @beachnut1134)