By Rick Sheek
MURFREESBORO — According to the McEwen coach, this evening’s matchup in the quarterfinals of the Class A state basketball tournament is as old school as it gets.
The Warriors (30-1) are making the school’s first trip to this stage, where the opponent is Cloudland (22-12). Tip-off is 6 p.m. (EST) at Murphy Center.
“We haven’t been there before,” Phillip Ross said on Wednesday. “It would be a good time to rob McEwen. Everybody will be in Murfreesboro.
“That’s the way it should be for these community schools. They’re such a big part of the community, and the community should be a part of your teams.”
The Warriors haven’t lost since late January, a five-point decision to White House-Heritage.
“They’re a good basketball team,” Cloudland coach Brandon Carpenter said after a Wednesday afternoon practice. “They shoot the basketball well. They’ve got some size.
“They have a very talented point guard. They’re pretty solid all the way around.”
Garrett Mullinicks, a 5-10 backcourt leader, leads McEwen in scoring at 20.1 points an outing. His cousin, and fellow senior 6-3 center Patrick Mullinicks, totals 15.2 and 8.5 rebounds a contest.
Blaine Harper, a 6-4 forward, averages 9.8 ppg. Each of the Mullinicks have reached the 1,000-point mark in their prep careers.
“We’re not intimidated by their record, or anything like that,” Carpenter said. “We just came down here to play our game, and see how it goes. As far as being intimidated, our kids are not intimidated.”
Dylan McClellan, the 6-1 junior forward, paces the Highlanders at better than 17 ppg. Zac Potter, a 5-10 junior guard, averages 14 ppg.
Another junior guard, 5-10 Taylor Whitehead, hits 11 points per clip. Jonathan Hill, the 6-3 senior center, is good for nearly eight ppg.
Rounding out the rotation are forward Devin Whitehead (6-1, jr.), sixth man and swingman Jeff Rhinehart (6-1, jr.), forward Mason Carnett (6-1, soph.), guard Zac Benfield (5-11, fresh.) and guard Logan Russell (5-11, fresh.)
“I think everybody up there is good,” Ross said. “Cloudland looks like they’ve got some good kids. The Whitehead kid and the McClellan kid are athletic, and of course the Potter kid can shoot it.
“They all can shoot it. They all look like they can shoot the three well, and they’re solid in the press. We’ll have to play well, but after all we’ll have to play well against anybody now.”
What benefited the Warriors in their post-season chances recently was reclassification. Ezell-Harding and Christ Presbyterian Academy, private schools, are no long in the same region.
Folks from Roan Mountain no doubt recall Ezell-Harding from the 2001 state football championship, when the Highlanders were humbled 63-26.
“We usually play pretty good defense, and we’re unselfish,” Ross said. “They don’t care who gets it done, which is a joy as a coach. As long as somebody gets it done, we’re all happy with that. They all get along together.”
The Highlanders still seek their first state tournament victory in their third trip in the past four years. Overall, Cloudland has advanced to the big dance six times.
“We feel like we’ve got a good shot at winning,” Carpenter said. “If we come down here and play our best basketball, we feel pretty good about it.”
The Highlanders’ coach is hoping McEwen suffers from what Cloudland has on so many occasions before – stage fright.
“I don’t know much about their program,” Carpenter said. “I know it’s their first time, and I’m sure they’re excited. Obviously we’ve been there before. We want to use that to our advantage, and see how it plays out.”