DANDRIDGE– It was a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the Jefferson County high school gym on Friday night when Sevier County came to town.
The Smoky Bears into the game undefeated in the district, 5-0, while Jefferson County was 4-1 with their lone loss in the conference coming to Morristown East, 70-68. Since that loss, the Patriots had been playing lights out. That performance continued on Friday night.
The Patriots came out of the gate on fire and, despite a late comeback from Sevier County, held on, topping the Smoky Bears, 61-56. With the win, Jefferson County, Sevier County and Morristown East are all tied for the top spot in the conference.
“The kids played really well,” Jefferson County coach Matt Johnson said. “They did a real nice job offensively and put in great effort. It was fun to see them play the way they did tonight.”
The Patriots were led in the game by Tommy Griffin and Jordan Mullins, who each scored 16 points. Griffin came up big on both sides of the ball for the Patriots. He was put to the test defensively, guarding Sevier County’s Wes Maples.
Maples came into the game as one of the top players in the conference. However, by the time the dust settled, Griffin held Maples to just four points, all four coming in the fourth quarter, and Maples fouled out with four minutes left in the game.
It was the second game in-a-row that Griffin had been put to the test defensively, on Tuesday night he went up against Morristown West’s Trent Lovelace, and Griffin passed both tests.
“Tommy once again did a phenomenal defensive job,” Johnson said. “Wes Maples is a front runner to win conference Player of the Year. He (Griffin) did it on Tuesday night too against Trent Lovelace. He leaves it all on the court. Tommy is handling the ball and guarding the top offensive threat.”
Sevier County came out hot, getting an early 4-0 lead. But Jefferson County responded and, when they took an 8-7 lead, never relinquished it for the rest of the game. Griffin had 10 points in the quarter to lead the Patriots. They led 16-13 after the first frame.
The second quarter saw more of the same from Jeff County as they continued to shoot the ball with success. The offensive performance was capped off by Kobe Parker midway through the second quarter. Parker caught an alley-oop pass with one hand and slammed the ball home over a Smoky Bear defender while being fouled. Parker had 14 points in the game. Jeff County led by eight at the break.
“They are known mostly as a zone team, and we wanted to make it so that we didn’t have to rush it or get into areas where they want us to go to,” Johnson said. “I thought our kids did a great job of staying out of those trouble areas.”
It looked like a blowout was inevitable in the third quarter for the Patriots who got their lead up to 10 at the end of the third quarter. The lead was 14 early in the fourth quarter and 11 with two minutes to go in the game.
However, that is when Sevier County woke up and almost made a miraculous comeback.
The Smoky Bears’ Jonathan Zhao-Olmos made three 3-pointers in the final two minutes of the game and with 42 seconds left, the lead was down to four.
Jeff County, who has struggled to close out games at times this year, didn’t seem fazed this time around and broke the Sevier County press multiple times for easy buckets to seal the five-point victory.
“It’s great because we have struggled to get a signature win and everything that goes into it,” Johnson said. “They made some tough shots, but we kept at it, and I never saw concern in our kids faces. They wanted to finish it.”
Jeff County will be back in action on Tuesday as they take on Seymour for a conference matchup. That game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.