Sweetwater head boys basketball coach Jeremy Henderson wasn’t interested in focusing on the positives Monday night.
Although his Wildcats had just escaped county rival Tellico Plains at home with a 54-47 win, critiques of both his team and his own coaching work were rampant on his mind.
“We’re playing exceptionally hard … but our mental focus is inexcusable,” Henderson said. “It is nowhere near our standards, and that’s what I’m most disappointed in right now is the mental focus that these guys (have).”
The Wildcats allowed just four points to the Bears on their way to a 14-4 second quarter lead, but Tellico Plains, led by playmaker Evan Harris, rallied back to cut Sweetwater’s advantage to just 24-22 by halftime.
“I told (my team) earlier, ‘(Tellico) has got every piece they need to come in here and beat you, and arguably they’re going to have the best player on the floor.’ Evan Harris is a heck of a player,” Henderson said. “And we got in foul trouble early. “We couldn’t execute what we wanted to do defensively on him, and I don’t know what he ended up with, but he had a really good night.”
The Bears were able to tie the game at 24-24 shortly into the third quarter, but Sweetwater was back out on top, 39-33, at the end of the period. The Wildcats pushed forth to a 10-point lead in the final quarter, eventually staving off the hard-playing Bears and taking the win, 54-57, by the conclusion of what was a physical, intense county contest.
Aaron Littleton had a team-high 14 points for the Wildcats, followed by Jayce Upton with 13. Harris led all scorers on Monday with 21 total points; Major Carter was second for Tellico with 12.
“I thought we got some response from a couple of the guys that we challenged at the half to step up,” Henderson said.
“And we got a positive response there. It was a dogfight. It was ugly. At the end of the day, it’s a win, but this group right here has got a long way to go if they’re going to go in here and compete for this district again this year.”
Tellico Plains girls 59, Sweetwater 39
While their boys team peers weren’t able to claw out a win against Sweetwater, the Tellico Plains girls team succeeded in its mission.
In a close game early, the Lady Bears led 12-11 at the end of the first quarter. But Tellico’s offense kicked into gear during the second period, as the Lady Bears carved out a 35-19 halftime lead.
“We knew that we had to bear down defensively,” Tellico Plains head girls basketball coach Gary Tucker said.
“Early in the game, we allowed Sweetwater to dictate the tempo, and I felt like, when we finally picked up the pressure defensively and changed the tempo to our liking, that we started clicking a little bit.”
Part of Tellico’s success against Sweetwater came via the 3-pointer; the Lady Bears hit six total 3-pointers, with Maggie Hooper and Emma Moore sinking two each.
“We work on (3-pointers) every day,” Tucker said. “I think that’s what’s exciting about my group is the depth that I have. We don’t depend on one or two (players).”
Its high-powered offense helped push Tellico to a 50-35 advantage by the conclusion of the third period, which translated into a 20-point, 59-39 win by the sound of the final buzzer. Kori Hamilton led the Lady Bears with 15 points, followed by Hooper with 14. Mikalee Martin had a team-leading 13 points for Sweetwater, and Abbey Barr was second with 11.
“I hope (this win has) given us some identity on both ends of the floor, especially on the defensive end,” Tucker said.
“We can build on that confidence that we played with tonight. I hope we can build on it because we’re young and the skills are there, the athleticism’s there.
“We’ve just got to build on that identity and know who we are.”
Jordan honored in ceremony
Perhaps the most impact moment on Monday, though, came between the game clocks.
The family of Callie Jordan, a SHS student athlete who passed away over the summer, was presented with her framed basketball jersey and Beta Club certificate in a special ceremony at half court between the girls’ and boys’ games.
Both schools participated in honoring Jordan on Monday, dubbed “Callie’s Night.” A 22-second moment of silence in honor of Jordan’s jersey number 22 was also observed.
“Great young lady,” Henderson, who coached Jordan as an assistant with the Sweetwater girls basketball team, said. “Deserved to be honored. That’s one of (those) ceremonies that you don’t want to have obviously. Just a special lady, lived by faith.”
The Sweetwater girls team is remembering Jordan by wearing warmup shirts with her name and the Bible verse Exodus 14:14 during their pregame routine this season.
“We just keep her family and everybody in our prayers,” Henderson said. “She touched so many people positively.”