KINGSTON — Thirty-two minutes weren’t enough to settle Tuesday’s grudge match between Scott High and Kingston in the Region 2-AA semifinals. Neither were 36 minutes. Or 40 minutes.
Through three overtimes, two old rivals battled it out in an elimination game with a substate berth on the line, before the Yellow Jackets finally escaped by hitting a layup with 4.2 seconds remaining, winning 79-77.
Trey Morrow scored 36 points and hauled in 11 rebounds — surpassing the 2,000-point career scoring mark along the way — to keep Scott High in it, while his counterpart at Kingston, Harper Neal, scored 26.
It was a classic battle in a wild environment — a loud and at times borderline unruly Kingston crowd clung to every made shot as the Yellow Jackets tried to inch closer to their first region championship in 42 years.
On the other side, the small contingency of Highlander faithful who were allowed inside the gymnasium (Kingston allotted only 20% of its available tickets to Scott High) created plenty of ruckus on their own, urging Scott towards its first substate appearance in a quarter of a century.
On multiple occasions, it looked like Scott High was going to pull it off. Trailing for most of regulation, the Highlanders battled back and seemed to have the upper hand every time the clock ticked towards zero.
Scott High was on the verge of having the final possession of regulation before junior Luke West was called for a questionable traveling violation as he cut to the basket in the waning seconds.
At the end of first overtime, the Highlanders had an opportunity to ice the game with a two-point lead and two free throws with eight seconds remaining. But both free throws were off the mark, and Kingston scored at the buzzer at the other end to extend the game.
Scott was back at the line again at the end of the second overtime, with the score tied, and again missed a pair of free throws but came up with a defensive stop at the opposite end to force a third overtime.
After Kingston scored with four seconds remaining in the third overtime, Scott quickly got the ball inbounds and senior Eli Storey — one of four seniors playing his final game in red — nailed an off-balance 30-footer that would’ve won the game … but the whistle had sounded as Scott coach Jordan Jeffers called a time out to stop the clock.
The Highlanders’ final possession went through Morrow, who had victimized Kingston earlier in his career with a buzzer-beater on the same floor. The Yellow Jackets’ strategy appeared to be to physically front Morrow up the floor, slowing his progression and knowing that even if the officials called a foul the worst-case scenario was a fourth overtime.
But a foul wasn’t called, and Morrow’s desperation 3-point lob from near mid-court with four hands in his face was off the backboard, and any objections that the Highlander faithful might’ve had about a foul either on the floor or on the shot fell on deaf ears — not in the least because the roar of exhilaration from the Kingston crowd drowned them out, as the Yellow Jackets students rushed the floor.
That the foul wasn’t called was hardly surprising; Jeffers had pleaded for calls on Morrow’s possessions throughout the game, to no avail. The junior Mr. Basketball finalist did shoot 10 free throws — all of them in the fourth quarter or the overtime sessions — but was confronted aggressively by the Yellow Jackets’ defensive strategy throughout the night. Notably, Scott High did not shoot a single free throw as a team until the fourth quarter.
Kingston was able to keep Morrow in check much of the night, limiting him to 12 points through the first three quarters. Scott High started well enough, with Morrow’s six first quarter points helping the Highlanders to an early 16-11 lead as Luke West added five points, Cash Tucker hit a 3-pointer and Dalton Prewitt also scored.
But after that, Kingston clamped down defensively. Trevor McCarty hit two 3-pointers in the second quarter to help Scott keep it close, but the Yellow Jackets still led 29-26 at the half.
The third quarter saw Kingston extend that lead to seven, behind eight points from Neal and six from Brady Luttrell. Prewitt, West and McCarty all hit 3-pointers for Scott to prevent it from being even worse, but the Yellow Jackets seemed to be on the verge of running away with it, and Morrow had still not been to the free throw line despite absorbing contact on nearly every shot attempt.
That the Mr. Basketball finalist had only scored 12 through three quarters was much to the delight of the Kingston crowd, as adults on the side jeered and the students behind the base line greeted him with “ball hog” chants every time he touched the ball.
But the chants subsided through the fourth quarter, as Morrow began to take over. He hit two 3-pointers and had 12 points in the fourth quarter alone, while Tucker added five points, to lead the Highlanders’ comeback and give them the opportunity to win at the end of regulation.
By overtime, there were no more “ball hog” chants and no jeering; just the partisan Kingston crowd holding its collective breath every time Morrow touched the ball, then groaning as he knocked down improbable jumper after improbable jumper and put a final exclamation point on his Mr. Basketball campaign.
The final stages of the classic game were all about Morrow and Tucker on the offensive end. Morrow scored 24 points from the beginning of the fourth quarter onward, while Tucker scored nine points. Except for a pair of crucial free throws by Storey in the first overtime, those were the only points the Highlanders had until a big 3-pointer by West in the third overtime.
It was almost enough, though. When the final horn sounded, one of the most noteworthy statistics wasn’t the 10 free throws the Highlanders made in the fourth quarter and overtime, but the four they missed. Even one of them might’ve been enough to seal a win. But, free throws alone didn’t write the story of the game; Kingston was able to somehow get to the rim for a game-tying shot every time it needed to in the extra sessions, and the final big moment in a game full of big moments went to the Yellow Jackets.
Scott’s season ends at 17-10, while the Highlanders bid farewell to four seniors: Tucker, McCarty, Storey and River Gray. Jeffers said before the season started that the schedule his team was playing was one of the toughest in the school’s history, noting that the Highlanders could be even better than last year’s 24-7 team and it not show on paper due to the toughness of the schedule. As it turned out, only two of Scott’s 10 losses were to teams that are not still playing in the substate: A Class AAA Sevier County team, and Alcoa.
Kingston, meanwhile, will host Knox Fulton in the Region 2-AA championship game on Thursday.
SCOTT (77): Morrow 36, Tucker 14, West 11, McCarty 9, Prewitt 5, Storey 2.
KINGSTON (79): Neal 28, Luttrell 17, Boles 17, Raymer 16, Heidle 3.