The Bulldogs trailed 48-40 going into the final quarter and let the Cougars score the first bucket of the period to push the advantage to 10 points. Bearden then went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to one point and later seized the lead for good at 57-56.
The scintillating guard duo of tournament most valuable player Ques Glover and Trent Stephney dazzled the crowds all week long by performing fancy dribbling in the open court and knocking down clutch shot after clutch shot. However, in the title game, the unsung hero was post player Marcus Brown, who was a warrior in the lane all game. He had six big points down the stretch as the Bulldogs outscored the highly-touted Cougars squad, 21-7.
One of the big keys in the game was the return of 6-foot-10 big man Drew Pember, who contributed a modest four points, but gave Bearden momentum going into halftime as he made a reverse layup at the horn to cut Carmel Christian’s lead to six.
He also had what proved to be the game-sealing basket with less than 30 seconds to go for the ’Dogs. Pember has been hampered by a stress fracture in his ankle for most of the season and has played a limited role since mid-December.
With the championship in hand, Bearden returns to Knoxville as the only team from Knox County to be in the finals and win in the prestigious history of the event.
The Bulldogs have a tough road ahead of them this weekend, though, as they will travel to Memphis to face two more high-caliber opponents in Hamilton Heights and Raleigh-Egypt.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM NORTHEAST TENNESSEE
Dobyns-Bennett: With a huge-statement 68-51 win over Gate City in the sixth-place game, the Indians proved that are most certainly the team to beat in the Big 7 Conference. They held a dynamic Blue Devils duo of Bradley Dean and Zac Ervin — who were averaging a combined 61 points per game going into the contest — to just 34 points and a combined 1 of 15 from 3-point range. Head coach Chris Poore’s defensive strategy was brilliant and Marae Foreman had his game of the season so far.
Science Hill: The Hilltoppers showed signs of cohesiveness against a talented Carmel Christian team in the first round after never trailing by more than 13 points until late in the game, when the Cougars made most of their free throws. A setback against D-B in the losers’ bracket was Science Hill’s second loss to the Indians (both by 10 points) this season. Turnovers have been the demise for the ’Toppers all season and so has the inability at times to hit 3-point shots. Coach Ken Cutlip’s squad is still developing and will continue to get better, especially behind the solid play of big man Jake Matherne.
Sullivan East: Coach John Dyer’s squad came so close to a stirring first-round upset of Mount Bethel (Ga.) on Thursday, but a string of turnovers late proved to be the turning point. The Patriots did win in impressive fashion over Tabernacle Baptist, but were torched in the next round by Gate City and Dean, who went off for a career-high 43 points. Sullivan East loves the 3-point shot and when it’s going in, they’re even harder to stop with the constant pressure they apply on defense. Dyer can take a lot of good things from the tournament and help set his team up for a run at the Three Rivers conference title.
Tennessee High: The Vikings nearly beat Buford in the opening round on their home court, but it wasn’t in the cards for Roby Witcher’s squad. The next game, against Morristown East and its talented guards, was also a close contest. However, the Vikings were eliminated in two games. The Hurricanes will be a threat to make a run at the regional crown and Buford is one of the best teams in Georgia.
Tennessee High can take away from the tournament that it held Oklahoma State-commit Marcus Watson to a tournament-low seven points in the first game.
Behind Christian Webb and a talented corps of guards, the Vikings have the capabilities of being one of the top teams in the Big 7 come conference play.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA
Gate City: Like Sullivan East, the Blue Devils came agonizingly close to a first-round win over Wenonah (Ala.), but it wasn’t meant to be as Cameron Tucker hit an open layup under the basket with less than two seconds left that sent the pro-Gate City crowd in Viking Hall to a silent hush. Cruising through the next two games, the Devils ran up against a tough defensive D-B squad that frustrated them from the opening tip.
The Indians forced everyone but Ervin and Dean to take shots and the ball just didn’t drop. It was evident last year a great number of times that when Gate City stepped on the floor, they had the best athlete. On Monday, that wasn’t the case and it had a glaring effect in the lopsided loss. If the Devils want to make another deep run into the postseason, they will have to find a consistent third scoring option like Dean was last year.
And with Radford defeating Graham by over 20 points last week, the Bobcats look primed right now to avenge a state quarterfinal loss last year to GC.
Union: With star senior post player Wes Slagle going down with a knee injury before the tournament, the Bears had to go searching for a consistent first scoring option. Well, they certainly found it in freshman point guard Andy Jones, who scored in double figures every game and had 20 or more each of the last two against out-of-state teams. If Jones can carry this momentum into district play, the Bears should be in contention for the second-best team in the Mountain 7 behind Gate City.