By Trey Williams
Basketball fans had a time and a half watching David Crockett work overtime to become the area’s first team in a decade to reach the Arby’s Classic semifinals en route to a fourth-place finish last week in the 33rd annual event at Bristol’s Viking Hall.
Coach John Good’s Pioneers labored through seven overtime sessions during a compelling four-game run, grandly battling talented teams in front of capacity crowds during a scintillating stretch highlighted by a double-overtime win against Oak Ridge in the quarterfinals.
The Pioneers (12-4) and Wildcats (17-1), who are respectively ranked Nos. 5 and 4 in the state in this week’s AP poll, blistered the nets while coating the packed arena’s collective face with a child-like smile. Each team made seven 3-pointers in the first quarter, which ended with Oak Ridge leading 32-26 and the building abuzz for the duration of the 60-second intermission.
Crockett made five more treys in the second quarter and finished the first half 12 of 17 from behind the arc thanks, in part, to senior shooting guard Peyton Ford making his first five treys. But Oak Ridge trailed only 46-44 at halftime thanks to 9-of-14 shooting on 3-point attempts.
“Both teams competed at a high level,” Good said. “They were ready to play. The crowd was ready.
“Shoot, that’s why they were cheering for both teams after every shot, it seemed like.
“When we hit a shot the crowd went crazy and when they hit a shot the crowd went crazy. They were just pulling for good basketball. And that’s what both teams were able to give them.”
Crockett senior guard Patrick Good decided the 87-85 epic on two free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining. His deep trey off the dribble had given Crockett an 81-76 lead with 2:40 left in the final overtime, but 6-foot-5 junior wing Tee Higgins, who has committed to play wide receiver at Tennessee, made three long 3-pointers after that – the last of which tied the score at 85 with 16.9 seconds left.
Oak Ridge finished 14 of 24 from the behind the arc; Crockett was 16 of 32.
“It was a game that I know our kids will remember the rest of their lives,” John Good said. “The place was going nuts. … And nobody can take that away from them – the experience. Kids just don’t understand the opportunity that the Arby’s brings.
“I was told by college coaches it was the best high school game they’d seen in 20 years. And I’d be hard pressed to try to find a better high school game than that one right there. I mean 14 3-pointers in the first quarter, 30 for the game. Every time a team got ahead by a few points the other team came back and hit a big shot.”
Among those in attendance were East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes and Appalachian State coach Jim Fox. Good had an offer from Appalachian State by the end of the night and could have one from ETSU by the end of the week, as the Bucs have indicated interest of late. So has Tennessee Tech.
Good also landed a walk-on invitation from Tennessee after his second straight All-Arby’s Classic performance, one which he opened with 35 points in a double-OT win against two-time Arby’s runner up Mentor (Ohio) and capped with a career-high 46 points in a triple-overtime loss to Saint James (Hagerstown, Md.) in the third-place game. The finale put Good over the 2,000-point mark during his 2 1/2 seasons at Crockett. (He also scored 202 points as a freshman at Science Hill.)
Saint James got 32 points and 17 rebounds from 6-foot-10, 230-pound Richmond signee Grant Golden.
Good scored 21 of Crockett’s 22 points during the three overtime sessions against Saint James, but the senior-laden Pioneers are more balanced than in the previous two seasons under Coach Good.
Five players scored in double figures against Oak Ridge. Ford scored 18 of his 20 points from behind the arc and added a cutting layup via an inbounds pass from Brendan Coleman that gave Crockett a 66-65 lead with 50 seconds left in the first overtime.
Coleman, an athletic, long-armed 6-foot-7 wing, finished with game highs in blocks (two) and steals (four), including one that sealed the victory, and led Crockett with nine rebounds.
Senior forward Dustin Day, who made the all-tournament team, tallied 11 points against Oak Ridge. He wowed the crowd with a whirling basket from the right block that gave the Pioneers an 83-79 lead with 1:35 remaining.
Junior combo guard Josh Releford scored 10 points, made an impressive blocked shot and slowed Higgins periodically with pesky defense despite giving up 7-8 inches in height.
“Our kids are going to compete,” John Good said.
The Pioneers lost to runner-up Tift County (Ga.) during the sold-out semifinal. Playing a deeper, more rested team 20 hours after the double-OT win against Oak Ridge was too tall of a task. In hindsight, leading Tift early in the third quarter seemed like a moral victory.
“We were exhausted and they had more depth,” Patrick Good said. “I felt like we did great things to help us in the long run of the season. Obviously, the season is just getting started, but I mean, to make a statement in the Arby’s – Oak Ridge is a state tournament type team; they’ve made it the last couple of years. To beat them kind of gave us an edge … that we can beat anybody if we just believe in ourselves.”
Now, the Pioneers must maintain intensity while assuming the role of the hunted. They were picked to win the Big Seven Conference.
“Obviously, we haven’t been further than the regionals (in previous seasons),” Patrick Good said. “So to get somewhere we want to go we’ve gotta keep the intensity up. We can’t have any letdowns, because one loss might bite us in the tail at the end if we don’t get the right seeding.”
Indeed, the ideal place for a rematch with Oak Ridge would be Murfreesboro.
“I hope we don’t see them again,” John Good said, “unless it’s the last day of the high school season.”