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Birds Of Prey

Fulton pressure in closing seconds sinks Rebels
Maryville’s Jake Headrick drives the baseline against Fulton’s Chase Hamilton on Tuesday. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Shame they’re in different classifications.

This hanging layup off the drive by Easton Upchurch was the shot of the tournament.

This hanging layup off the drive by Easton Upchurch was the shot of the tournament.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see this one in Murfreesboro three months from now?

Maryville and Fulton both have the teams to reach their respective state tournaments, evidenced by a mighty fine showing in the championship game of the Renasant Bank Christmas Tournament Tuesday night at James Campbell Gymnasium.

The Falcons were the better team the final 42 seconds, defense and free-throw shooting lifting Fulton to a 56-53 win and its first title in the event in four tries.

The Falcons (7-2) turned the Rebels over on each of Maryville’s last three possessions, including an interception of a Rebel pass at halfcourt with three seconds remaining.

Just as damaging for Maryville (10-3), which returns to District 4AAA play at Hardin Valley on Friday, was 8-of-15 shooting from the free-throw line the last five minutes.

“What bothers me about that is we shoot about 78 percent at the line,” Rebel coach Mark Eldridge said.

Yasmond Federson provided Fulton with the winning margin with a pair of free throws with 42 seconds to play.

“Neither team put on a clinic on how to finish a game,” Fulton coach Jody Wright said. “This game could have gone a lot differently. We needed to win a game like this. We needed to learn how to finish.”

The loss did little to diminish a fabulous finals showing from Maryville sophomore Easton Upchurch, who paced the Rebels in a back-and-forth struggle throughout with 17 points, including a pair of 3s. A behind-the-back, between-the-legs dribble to slip a pair of Fulton defenders just before the half was just awesome.

(Editor: Anybody got video on that?)

A hanging, lefty layup on a drive up the baseline was dripping flavor.

Tristen Upchurch gets in the lane for two.

Tristan Upchurch gets in the lane for two.

“I was concerned they’d get hot and run off and leave us,” Wright said.

T.D. Blackmon added 13 and a trey for Maryville. Bryce Miller and Tristan Upchurch had seven each.

Ethan Williams was the only Falcon to reach double figures with 11, with Federson finishing with nine, including a strike from beyond the arc.

Fulton can apply full-court pressure like few others. Falcon big man Joe Kimber struck for a steal and breakaway basket for the game’s first four points, and Kimber was the biggest guy on either team.

The Upchurch brothers and Miller rallied Maryville to within 14-10 at the quarter change. The difference was a single point, 29-28 Fulton, at the half.

The Falcons threatened to open a decisive gap late in the third, extending to a 38-32 lead with a minute to play in the period. Dalton Price steadied the Rebels with a desperately needed trey.

“One thing Fulton does is they do a good job of taking away the things you like to do,” Eldridge said. “We knew we’d have to do some things differently, like getting some baskets off the dribble.

“The biggest thing I thought happened tonight is we got down by four or five and fought to get back in it.”

Yet another bomb from Easton Upchurch made it a one-point game, 54-53, with 25 seconds left in the fourth. Three Rebel turnovers from that point did the rest.

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