Head basketball coach E’Jay Ward may be new to Tyner, but the former Brainerd player and assistant coach is anything but new to state basketball tournaments.
And one thing he made abundantly clear to his Ram players this year was that the Ram train the first-year head coach was engineering towards Murfreesboro was going to be a steam locomotive.
“Our motto has been 212 and we wear it on our shirts as a reminder.
Water will get really warm at 211 degrees, but at 212 degrees it will boil,” Ward explained.
“It takes that one extra degree and we have preached all year about one extra degree of effort. When water boils it makes steam and it takes steam to power the Ram train.”
The Upperman Bees almost certainly felt like they had been hit by a train when all was said and done in Monday night’s Class AA Sectional on the Tyner home court. With past Tyner stars Gerald Harris and Geoff Herman in the house to witness it, the Rams made the alumni proud, reeling off a 68-42 victory to earn the school’s seventh state tournament berth.
And just as Harris and Herman directed two of those state tourney teams, it was senior Jeremy Elston who continued to breathe fire into a Tyner team which has found its legs in the season’s second half, reeling off 12 wins over the last 15 games.
Elston and diminutive Marquis Hinton led the Rams with 14 points apiece, and a whole host of Tyner defenders made it difficult to breathe for Upperman let alone get a good shot, and this one was dominated by the Rams from the opening tip.
Tyner (20-10) made seven of 10 3-point shots in the first half, running out to a 20-12 first quarter lead and closing on an 8-2 run with Hinton capping it with a steal near midcourt and heaving a 35-foot bomb that found nothing but net to make it 40-21 at the break.
“I wish we could have competed better. We knew they could shoot, but that first half was ridiculous. We got bug-eyed out there and once they got rolling, there really wasn’t anything we could do,” said Upperman coach Bobby McWilliams.
It was the 11th straight time the visiting team from Region 4-AA had traveled to a Region 3-AA champion’s gym and limped away with a loss in tow. Upperman, despite a gaudy 27-5 record coming in, never stood a chance in this heat.
“Coach E’Jay has preached to us all year that Murfreesboro was possible and we bought into it. We just go out and go as hard as we can until we get tired and then it’s next man up and his job is to do the same,’ said Hinton. “It’s all about that extra degree.”
The Rams came at the Bees in waves, and the visitors had such a hard time getting past midcourt at times, it was almost as if not getting a turnover was a moral victory never mind finding an open look at the basket.
“As a head coach, this is just really special. I knew what it takes to get to the state tournament and I felt like I knew what buttons to push to get these kids to buy in. The last few weeks we’ve had kid after kid come off the bench and step it up.
"It helps having seniors like Elston and (Jaylen) Bowens who have been through the adversity on the football field and take a team to a state title game. These kids are tough and to do what they’ve done for a first-year head coach is special,” Ward said.
Tyner came out of the dressing room with the same intensity it took into it and Elston capped a 16-5 quarter with another Ram trey at the buzzer to make it 56-26 and all but booked the reservation to Murfreesboro.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling getting to the state tournament. To make it in football and now this, I just can’t describe it or put it into words. Just really blessed to be part of it,” said Elston. “We do have some young guys but they understand about stepping it up.”
One of those youngsters is the sharp-shooting sophomore Javon Craddock, who seemingly is in range anywhere past the half court stripe. His three treys in the opening period set the tone as the Rams missed just the three shots in 10 tries from behind the arc.
“Coach E’Jay has a lot of confidence in me and tells me I always have the green light. I’ve gotten more and more confident as the year has gone on. Tonight our plan was to run it and then run it some more and wear them down. The long shots were a bonus,” said Craddock, who had all nine of his points in the first half.
Tyner forced 16 Upperman turnovers and held the Bees to 33 percent shooting in the second half. The Rams used a 10-man rotation and it seems as if someone was always checking in at the scorer’s table.
Tyner lost last year in the Sectionals, the fifth time it had done so in the last 17 seasons, but this team was not to be denied.
The Rams will play next Thursday (March 15) at MTSU and the draw will be held Tuesday to determine the time and opponent.
The rest of the AA field includes: Alcoa (22-10), Fulton (23-8), Whites Creek (18-12), Hamilton (30-2), Livingston Academy (24-9), Jackson SouthSide (20-8) and Stratford (19-6).
Livingston Academy knocked off Signal Mountain in overtime, 71-62.
Upperman 12 9 5 16 -- 42
Tyner 20 20 16 12 -- 68
UPPERMAN (42) – McClellon 1, Booker 3, Dood, Kanipe 4, Mangrum 2, Anderson, Walker 1, McCallister 4, Fox, Gore 16, McWilliams, Allen 2, Grissom.
TYNER (68) – Je.Elston 14, Craddock 9, Little 9, Bridgeman 7, Bowens 3, Halfacre, Hinton 14, Ja. Elston, Lattimore, Sturkey 2, Gladden 3, Timmons, Favors.
3-point goals: Upperman 4 (Gore 4); Tyner 9 (Craddock 3, Little 3, Hinton 2, Je. Elston).
(Contact James Beach via email at email@example.com or Twitter @beachnut1134)