Blount Press Row

Rankings, Schmankings

Rebels upend state’s Nos. 1 and 2 to claim first region title since ’03
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T.D. Blackmon celebrates with his Maryville teammates after the Rebels upset No. 1-ranked Oak Ridge on Sunday. Photos by Wallace Bowden

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

Oak Ridge – They locked up Bearden so bad you kept waiting for someone to yell “cookies!”

There were a lot of steals.

Blackmon had nine of his game-high 23 points in the last two minutes, including 7-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line.

Blackmon had nine of his game-high 23 points in the last two minutes, including 7-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line.

Less than 24 hours later, the Maryville boys’ basketball team completed a one-two knockout of the state’s Nos. 1 and 2 teams with a 60-56 stunner over host and top-ranked Oak Ridge in the Region 2AAA championship game Sunday afternoon.

The unranked Rebels (25-6) host Dobyns-Bennett (24-8) in a sectional final Tuesday night at 7, with the winner advancing to the boys state tournament March 11 at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.

“What a performance,” Maryville coach Mark Eldridge said. “They played so hard, both days.”

T.D. Blackmon was the iceman for Maryville against the Wildcats down the stretch, the sophomore guard going 7-of-8 from the free-throw line the last two minutes. A disappointing performance in a region quarterfinal win at Karns served as motivation, he said.

“I was on an 0-for stretch,” Blackmon said. “That whole week in practice (afterward), all I did was work on them.”

Blackmon paced the Rebels with a game-high 23 points, including three bombs from downtown, in securing Maryville’s first region title since the 2003 season. Senior Bryce Miller finished with a double-double of 15 points and 12 boards.

Easton Upchurch settles the Rebels in the closing minutes Sunday.

Easton Upchurch settles the Rebels in the closing minutes Sunday.

District player of the year Easton Upchurch tacked on eight, none bigger than a deep 3 in front of the scorer’s table to close the third.

Huge win, but take a few minutes to reflect on what the Rebels did to Bearden the night before.

The Bulldogs (28-3) entered the game the state’s No. 2-ranked team in Class AAA. Miller led with 16 as Maryville crushed its district rival, 79-43. Ten Rebels scored.

“A lot of people think we’re just a 3-point shooting team,” Eldridge said. “We knew, to beat Bearden, you’ve got dominate the paint.”

Dalton Price followed Miller into double figures with 14, with Jake Headrick adding 11. Upchurch and Andrew Petree finished with nine each, with Tristan Upchurch adding eight.

“We just wanted to attack them as much as we could and find the shooters for 3s,” Miller said.

It’s what Maryville did to a bigger Bearden team defensively that told the story, though.

With the Rebels red hot at the start, it was 18-8 Maryville after a quarter, the gap widening to 37-18 by the half. The difference was Miller and backup Spencer Lowe in the post. The pair finished with seven blocks in the game – Miller four, Lowe three.

“We wanted to play behind the post and double down,” Eldridge said.

With the defense on the perimeter equally sticky, Bearden shot attempts were soon coming from extreme distances.

Lowe’s bucket with 3:26 to play in the third put the Maryville lead at 20, and it was over.

Bryce Miller proved a difference maker for Maryville both days.

Bryce Miller proved a difference maker for Maryville both days.

The Wildcats survived an overtime thriller with Heritage, 45-43, in Saturday’s second region semifinal. Sunday, Oak Ridge held its last lead, 7-5, with five minutes to play in the opening quarter, a lead Headrick promptly erased with a 3 banged home from the right corner.

Maryville hit five times from the arc in the opening eight minutes, Blackmon matching Headrick with two of them, Easton Upchurch tallying the other.

Oak Ridge looked to have an edge in size around the basket. Maryville guards crashed hard with double teams to send the Wildcats to the perimeter for points — as they had with Bearden.

Offensively, Miller delivered a difference-making performance at the glass, snaring eight offensive boards.

“With (the Wildcat post players) coming over to help, I knew I’d get a chance for some offensive rebounds,” he said.

Maryville’s greatest strength this season has been getting big moments from everyone in the biggest minutes. Easton Upchurch, Petree and Tristan Upchurch had three of the biggest in knocking off the Wildcats.

Easton Upchurch got open for a look with two seconds to play in the third, but open is relative with a shooter of Upchurch’s quality. The distance to the Maryville basket was such the sophomore guard could’ve shaken hands with Eldridge in front of the Rebel bench.

Andrew Petree, Easton Upchurch and Spencer Lowe talk things over heading to the Rebel bench.

Andrew Petree, Easton Upchurch and Spencer Lowe talk things over heading to the Rebel bench.

The deep blast extended the Maryville lead to 42-38. The confidence it gave the Rebels was bigger.

“I knew I could make that shot, so I just shot it,” Upchurch said. “It was kind of instinctual.”

Three Maryville possessions were definitive the last four minutes.

At the four-minute mark, Oak Ridge pulled even at 47-all. Petree’s slicing drive in heavy traffic steadied the Rebels and got the lead back.

The Wildcats equalized again with a pair of free throws seconds later.

Just a quickly, Tristan Upchurch followed a Maryville miss at the rim for a 51-49 advantage with 3:36 left.

Miller and Blackmon then combined on a defense/offense sequence to make it a free-throw contest, with Miller drawing a charge beneath the basket to gain Maryville possession. Blackmon made the stop stick at the other end when he knifed to the rim to open the lead to four.

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