Facing an unbeaten team with four players already committed to D-1 schools, the Hilltoppers nonetheless hung tough before falling to Carmel Christian (N.C) by a 78-57 count Wednesday night.
"They are an outstanding team," said 15-year Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip. "I think they're ranked 19th (actually 17th) in the country and that's for a reason."
Carmel Christian, a private school near Charlotte in the suburb of Matthews, won its 18th game in 18 outings, and the Cougars did it with defense.
Science Hill (8-8) struggled mightily out of the gate against Carmel Christian's defensive quickness and length, turning the ball over time after time against the halfcourt and fullcourt trappping zone pressure of the Cougars.
The Hilltoppers finished the game with 17 turnovers according to the official tournament stat sheet, but Cutlip knows it was more.
Most often, a turnover meant a fastbreak layup or dunk on the other end. For the record, the Cougars had eight dunks on the evening.
"I had us for 23 (turnovers)," said Cutlip, whose club trailed 29-8 early in the second quarter. "When their smallest player is 6-3 and they've got 6-4 and 6-5 and 6-6 (and 6-8), it can be tough when you get off to a bad start like we did."
It's simple, said Carmel Christian coach Joe Badgett.
"I tell them if they want me to call some stuff — and we have stuff (offensive sets) that I can call — then don't defend and I'll have to," Badgett said. "Our program, historically, it's always been the defense for us.
"Our defense turns into offense and gets us into transition and leads to the dunks and all that other stuff they like to do."
Gregory Donovan, a 6-foot-4 senior guard who is headed to Appy State, led all scorers with 25 points. Teammate DeAngelo Epps, a 6-5 senior commit to the College of Charleston, finished with 17 points. Each had three dunks.
TOPPERS SOMEHOW RECOVER
Cutlip was no doubt pleased with how his team, which fought back to trail 38-25 at halftime, recovered and actually got to within eight points on three occasions in the second half, the last time at 56-48 with 6:08 left in the game.
Whenever that happened, however, the Cougars would respond, like finishing the game on a 22-9 run.
"Once we stopped turning it over we were able to compete," said Cutlip, who received 16 points apiece from Jake Matherne inside and Kendle Cutlip on the perimeter. "We had some opportunities to make it a little closer, but when they needed to they made plays.
"But I'm proud of the way the kids scrapped and battled back and were able to hang in there."
The Hilltoppers will face their old rival Dobyns-Bennett next in a loser's bracket game Friday morning at 10:30.