GLADEVILLE — Hunters Lane’s journey to the Boys’ State Championships was bogged down in Wilson Central’s trap as the Wildcats punched their own tickets to the round of eight with a 54-38 sectional win over a near-packed house Tuesday night.
The teams spent much of the first half feeling each other out. But Central’s trapping defense took its toll on the Warriors as the home team went on a 10-0 run to take a 20-12 lead in the second quarter, capped by a coast-to-coast layup by backup point guard Deante Miller, WCHS’ version of a pick-six cornerback, off a blocked shot by Ben Palmer.
“Our trap has been our signature,” said Troy Bond, Central’s coach since the school’s 2001 opening. “It’s been our thing since pretty much about year 3. Our kids really believe in it. That’s Wilson Central basketball to them. These guys have that heart of champions. They play it so hard and we understand how to do it. It just makes a difference in our team. We feed off our defense. We can score some, but our defense is our key.”
It got even better for Central as the Wildcats went on an 11-0 spurt, including the first nine points of the second half. Preston Reed, who has signed with Tennessee Tech as a defensive end, attacked the rim as if it was a quarterback with back-to-back dunks during the run.
“Preston has a ton of athleticism,” Bond said of his backup post. “We always tell him we wish he had played since he was a freshman. He may have signed a scholarship somewhere to play basketball. He’s just a nice athlete. He’s a happy-go-lucky guy. He brings that physicality on the floor we were missing. He’s really played well in the tournament, the region and now the substate.
“We’re not overly big or fast. We got kids who are smart and know how to play together and share the ball.”
Central led 41-21 early in the fourth on Matthew Hall’s backdoor layup and the Wildcats used that cushion to withstand 5-of-16 free-throw shooting the rest of the way [9-of-23 for the game] to punch their fourth state tournament ticket in the school’s 13-year history.
“Our legs were a little gone,” Bond said, explaining the free-throw struggles. “For one, we’ve been out of routine with the weather scenario. We hadn’t played since last Thursday. We go from planning to play on Monday. We don’t get a lot of time up here because of weather and not really knowing what’s going on. Being out of school two days is totally out of routine. Kids that age will stay up all night if you don’t watch it.”
Despite being the focal point of Hunters Lane’s defense, Jacob Williams led the Wildcats in scoring with 17 points and eight rebounds despite drawing a blank in the first quarter when the Warriors led 9-6. Palmer powered in 11 while Matthew Hall had eight, Jon Rosshirt seven [with five assists], Miller and Reed four each, A.J. Franklin two and Casey Brandon a free throw as the Wildcats climbed to 26-6.
In addition to Miller’s basket off Palmer’s block, he also scored coast-to-coast off his own steal after Central fell behind 7-4 in the opening minutes, continuing a trend from the Region 5-AAA tournament.
“He’s got great speed,” Bond said of Miller, who had tbo blocked shots and two steals. “He has good hands. He attacks the rim well in transition. I just wish he had more confidence in his ability. Sometimes, he’s lax and when he’s lax, he’s not as good. But he’s been a key for us during this run…coming in and being that spark. He could easily be a starter.”
Austin Carey tossed in 12 points and Devine Howard 10, including a pair of three-pointers apiece, for the Warriors, who fell to a final 22-11 mark.
Central will play at Middle Tennessee State’s Murphy Center a week from today. A drawing will be held Saturday morning to determine the pairings. Three sectionals from Class AAA have yet to be played due to the icy weather’s grip in the western half of the state.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Bond said. “We’re excited about it.”
Next week’s trip to Murfreesboro will culminate the careers of 10 seniors who have been in three straight sectionals and will play in their second state tournament. While Williams, the school’s career scoring leader, is the big scoring threat, the rest of the rotation has found its roles, whether it be rebounding, defense, ball-handling or passing. And they’re all tenacious.
“Everyone on our team is like a puzzle, you got to find the right pieces and we seem to make it fit right now,” Williams said. “We just got to keep it going and everyone has found their place in it.
“We played with a hard nose. We get after it. We’ve been in position where we’ve been down. We just want to control the tempo of the game and that’s when we play our best ball.”