South had been playing man-to-man, but decided to go to a straight 2-3 zone defense to slow down the Cyclones.
Elizabethton scorched the nets for 39 points in the opening two periods and led by 10 at the break. The swap immediately paid dividends as the Cyclones torrid pace was slowed to a shuffle, netting just 12 total points in the second half.
“We knew we had to do something because we couldn’t guard them in man,” South head coach Michael McMeans said. “It became evident that Nico (Ashley) was going nuts on us in the first half and for whatever reason, we let people cut right in front of us. We knew we had to change something and I got into them pretty bad at halftime. I told them we were going to play zone and stick to it.”
Ashley led all scorers for Elizabethton with 21 points, but only three came in the second half as South completely shut down the most potent scoring threat on the floor.
Gannon Chase stepped up big time for the Rebels, netting 18 points. He hit a dagger mid-range jump shot with 2:58 left to put South up by two possessions at 53-48.
“That was the best game of Gannon’s career and I told him that after the game,” McMeans said. “He absolutely put us on his back and kept us in it in the first half. What people won’t recognize that sit in the stands is that we went over three or four of their plays in practice yesterday. He read three of them in the game and cut them off. He was the player of the game for me.”
However, arguably one of the biggest shots of the entire game was Cooper Johnson’s 3-pointer — his only bucket of the game and first score in nine quarters — with 5:53 left that put South ahead 46-45.
“I’m sitting on the sidelines screaming at him to shoot it and he wouldn’t,” he said. “He’s a confident kid and he’s capable of making those shots. For whatever reason, he decided to square up and shoot it that time and he made it. We had been waiting on that one the whole game.”
Ben Diamond came through with 16 as well for South and hit a couple of big shots late in the third quarter to get the lead down to single digits.
Jake Roberts netted 16 for Elizabethton.
Elizabethton 53, Sullivan South 38
The size advantage was simply too much for Sullivan South to overcome as the Lady Cyclones finished with 10 blocked shots on the evening behind Kaitlyn Bailey and Morgan Headrick.
The twin towers in the post stifled the Lady Rebels most of the night every time they came into the paint. Bailey finished with 11 points while Headrick netted five, but the star of the night was Kaylen Shell as she netted 17.
Five of those came at the beginning of the fourth quarter with the Lady Cyclones nursing a 37-30 lead and South had built momentum.
Shell canned a 3-pointer from the top of the key and then made a jumper in the lane to give Elizabethton a 42-32 cushion.
“That was huge,” said Elizabethton head coach Lucas Andrews. “All of those shots were within our offense and big shots. That’s exactly what we want. She was able to knock them down. Most nights I feel like we have a big advantage inside. We’re blessed with kids that are 6-2, 6-3 and 5-11 — and we’re quick. Our defense is strong end on most nights.”
Nicole Troutman led South with 13 points.