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Sports Scott Scott ladies excel, guys stumble: What we learned in Friday's district opener

Scott ladies excel, guys stumble: What we learned in Friday’s district opener

KNOXVILLE — As an injury-riddled Scott High team struggled in summer camp, Lady Highlander head coach Jake Wright refused to let the results of June define his team’s expectations for the winter. And as Scott High struggled some early in the season, losing nail-biters to Kingston and Union County that should have been wins, Wright […]

KNOXVILLE — As an injury-riddled Scott High team struggled in summer camp, Lady Highlander head coach Jake Wright refused to let the results of June define his team’s expectations for the winter.

And as Scott High struggled some early in the season, losing nail-biters to Kingston and Union County that should have been wins, Wright refused to let the expectations change.

This team, Wright has insisted, is good enough to play with anyone on its schedule. And it’s also good enough to compete for a district championship.

On Friday, the Lady Highlanders showed why they have the trust of their coach.

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Halls finished the 2020-2021 season with a 27-10 record, second in district play only to Oak Ridge.

And, yes, the Red Devils lost several seniors from that team, but they had also defeated Union County by 29 points — a team the Lady Highlanders had lost to.

So, on paper, Scott High’s district opener against Halls — the team picked by most to win District 4-3A this season — was a bad matchup.

But games aren’t decided on paper.

Instead, Scott High came out and took it to the Devils on their home floor, walking away with a 15-point win that was by any measure a significant upset.

“This team won’t back away from anyone,” Wright said after the game.

And he’s right. Scott High doesn’t yet have the swagger of a team that expects to win every time it steps onto the court. But it also doesn’t have the same deer-in-the-headlights look of the Lady Highlander team that went to Alcoa and struggled to even score a point last season.

Learning to win is a process. If it wasn’t, Scott High’s record would be at least 5-4 instead of 3-6 at this point in the season. No doubt there will still be painful bumps in the road ahead. But, still, the progress from Point A towards Point B has been undeniable.

The 57 points Scott scored at Halls on Friday was a season-high in terms of offensive production. But this Lady Highlander team will go as its defense goes. Wright is a man defense coach at the very core of who he is. But he’s adapted to a zone defense quite effectively this season. The Lady Highlanders have made it difficult for opposing teams to score, consistently holding their opponents under their season average.

Hoisting a district championship trophy in February will be no easy task. Doing so will require beating Halls a couple more times. And the Lady Highlanders have yet to see Clinton, which boasts the best player in District 4-3A.

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But on Friday, Scott High showed exactly why all those “keep your head up, Coach” texts rubbed Wright the wrong way in the summer. He doesn’t need anyone to tell him what his team might be capable of if they only had a couple more bodies. He knows what his team is capable of with the bodies they have.

And, on Friday, the Lady Highlanders showed for themselves what that capability looks like.

MEANWHILE, Scott’s boys fell to Halls in a game that had their coach, Jordan Jeffers, fuming over his team’s approach.

“Entitled, arrogant and soft” were the words Jeffers used to describe his team’s approach to Halls. The Red Devils weren’t expected to beat Scott High, but they did. Everyone said the district would come down to Scott and Clinton. But will it?

If Scott High has district title hopes in its future — let alone substate and state tournament hopes — it will have to find a way to adapt to the toughness that Halls threw at it on Friday. The Red Devils took advantage of referees’ tendency to swallow their whistles in an effort to avoid perceptions of favoritism towards top players, and Halls bodied Trey Morrow all over the court.

Scott High didn’t handle the aggressive nature of Halls’ defense well. Rather than matching physicality with physicality, they wilted.

“I thought physically they absolutely manhandled us, at every position, at every spot, for 32 minutes,” Jeffers said.

Faced with adversity for the first time this season, the Highlanders spent too much time in the first half waiting on Morrow to make plays. And although Luke West — Scott High’s other exceptional senior guard — finished with 17 points, Jeffers said the team as a whole just wasn’t good enough around Morrow.

Jeffers’ frustration wasn’t hard to understand. Down 13 in the first half, the Highlanders went on an 11-0 run to cut it to two points, only to see Halls score the last six points of the half and then go on to build the lead to 15 points in the third quarter.

A sequence near the end of the third quarter was emblematic of the entire game. Scott missed an uncontested layup on one end, which allowed Halls to knock down a wide-open look at a three at the other end. Instead of cutting the lead to 10 points, the Highlanders saw it grow to 15 points.

Later, after the Highlanders rallied in the fourth quarter, they cut it to two points and had the ball with a chance to tie before an unforced turnover gave the ball back to Halls. And after Halls missed the second of a one-and-one free throw opportunity in a two-point game with under 10 seconds left, they got an offensive rebound — their 17th of the game — which led to two made free throws to seal it.

In other words, even as the Highlanders rallied, they didn’t make the plays they needed to make — the plays they usually do make — to win the game.

Jeffers said the game should be a wake-up call, not just for his team, but also for the folks in the stands.

“Even our fans, we just think, ‘Well, now we’re in a new district and we’re good to go,’” Jeffers said. “It ain’t like that.”

The good thing about basketball is that the season is long. Scott High will get another shot at Halls in just a few weeks. And Jeffers knows Friday’s game will help his team.

“We thought it was going to be a miracle ride, like a storybook movie, and it would be on Disney Plus in a couple of years,” Jeffers said. “That’s just not reality. This is reality.

“I don’t think we’re as good as we can be, and I don’t think we’re as good as we think we are,” Jeffers added.

It was a brutally honest assessment from Scott High’s head coach. But the good news is that basketball goals and aspirations don’t hinge on a single regular season game. Losses, if they come at the right time and if teams respond to them the right way, can make you better. Friday’s loss definitely came at the right time. The next question is how the Highlanders will respond to it.

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Ben Garrett
Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com. Follow him on Twitter, @benwgarrett.
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