The Loudon High School Redskins capped off the regular season on a high note Thursday with a 49-39 rivalry win over the Lenoir City High School Panthers.
“It wasn’t the prettiest, but we’ll take it ... anytime you can hold a triple-A team under 40 points, that’s a big accomplishment defensively,” Josh Graves, LHS head boys basketball coach, said. “I had a feeling that we would struggle a little bit offensively just because of the break and we had the day off Tuesday, practiced yesterday, we had to work on a lot stuff so we didn’t get a lot of shots up, but defensively I thought the boys showed up.”
The Redskins held a 12-2 lead heading into the second quarter and maintained an 11-point lead at halftime thanks to stingy defense led by Drew Jackson and Lucas Bivens.
“I think our identity is what it is, you know, we’ve got to mix it up, mix and match and we’ve got to be active in the zone and let our bigs kind of clean things up in the back end regardless if it’s Syracuse or our 3-2 look, and we’ve got to be able to defend man-to-man some,” Graves said. “You can’t be a one-trick pony, you’ve got to have some different looks to give people. I knew, eventually, (David) Ross, (Scory) Correa and (Ben) Halcomb would find a way to get some gaps and get some shot looks, so I wanted to mix it up and keep them on their toes and keep them off balance.”
Lenoir City came out firing in the third quarter with four early points from David Ross to help cut the lead to eight heading into the fourth quarter.
Both teams traded punches in the final quarter as the Panthers drew within five with less than four minutes remaining, but late free throws by Bivens, Donovan Blankenship and Tyler Whitfield proved the difference for the Redskins.
Whitfield’s loud play outshone his quiet demeanor as he led the team with 14 points. He and center Noah Burnette caused problems in the paint all night with their size and strength.
“No, it’s just my teammates looking at me down low and feeding me the ball,” Whitfield said. “It feels good because it’s my senior year, and football and basketball I was able to get a dub.”
“I think it was just a scare factor. They didn’t really know what to do when I was in the game,” Burnette added. “They didn’t score when we were both in the game, so that’s two games now they haven’t scored. I love it, especially because they can’t score. Both times we played McMinn Central and LC, they did not score when both of us were in. It’s always great to beat LC always and it’s a big rivalry, but to win on senior night, that’s just a crazy feeling and the atmosphere was crazy. It was just great to win.”
Graves has relied on multiple players this season to contribute major minutes.
“We know guys like Donovan (Blankenship), Lucas and Whitfield are going to have to score the ball for us some ... guys like Drew and Broady (Harrison) and Noah and Jack (Williams) and Keaton (Harig), they’re going to come in and play their roles whatever that may be,” Graves said. “But we know those three are going to have to score the majority, and everybody else can contribute, no doubt about it.”
The Redskins will play Sequoyah for the third time this season at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at McMinn County High School in the first round of the District 5-2A tournament.
Loudon won both meetings this year against the Chiefs.
“If you can win ugly like this and we can get our offense back, why not us next week?” Graves said. “We know that our district tournament is going to be wild, and if we can take care of our play in game whoever it may be, it’s not going to be easy ... there’s no easy out in our district. It’ll make for a wild tournament, so why not us? Why not the Redskins? That’s kind of what I’m pushing to them and they’re buying in, and man, I’m excited to see what these guys do going forward.”