After a see-saw opening quarter, Elizabethton regrouped and attacked inside.
A fiery second frame was enough to ignite a conference win.
The Cyclones took control in the paint, built a 13-point lead and never looked back, holding off Sullivan North 68-58 in a key Three Rivers Conference battle Friday at Treadway Gymnasium
“We got the ball a few times up high and got it down low and were able to score on them,” said Elizabethton coach Len Dugger, whose team reached the 20-win plateau with the victory (20-6, 7-3). “I thought that was a huge difference right there the way we were able to attack with our post players.”
Sullivan North’s top scoring threat Chase Arnold, fresh off a 40-point game, was on pace early with 10 first-quarter points. Arnold managed a game-high 26 points, but the Cyclones limited the Raiders’ other offensive weapons while producing four double-digit scorers on their own offensive end.
Aaron Miller led the team with 17, while Justin Wandell scored 16 on his senior night. Will Robinson added 16 and Zeke Clark 11 to carry Elizabethton to possession of third place entering next week’s District 1-AA Tournament at Unicoi County.
“The biggest thing we talked about in (Thursday’s) practice was know where their shooters are and try not to let people get behind us,” Dugger said. “Other than two, three or four times I thought we did a pretty good job not letting people get behind us there.
“What can you say about Arnold? He’s just a heck of a high school basketball player. He’s just capable of taking the game over. I thought they played a lot better tonight than when we played them at North.”
North (11-11, 6-4) jumped out to an early lead behind the strong inside play of Arnold, who hit five buckets inside on the frame.
Elizabethton fought shot for shot with the Raiders after treys from Wandell and Clark. Zach Norwood added a pair of buckets to make it a one-point game entering the second.
Using a 14-2 run, the Cyclones caught fire in the second quarter.
Wandell delivered a three-point play inside then tickled the twine from downtown to give the Cyclones their first lead of the game. Robinson added another three-point play in the post, then Aaron Miller connected with a trey and jumper to build an 11-point advantage.
A steal and lay-up from Clark pushed the lead to 13. Will White and Andrew Hawkins got the game into single digits, but Clark capped the half with a jumper to make it a 38-28 game at the break.
“At the end of the first quarter coach told us in the huddle to get the ball inside because the zone wasn’t great,” said Robinson. “We put it inside and it worked out for us.”
A sharp-shooting Miller help Elizabethton withstand a push from North at the top of the third quarter.
Buckets from White and Grayson Ball were followed by a pair of treys and a two-point jumper from the Cyclone forward to maintain a double-digit lead for the home team.
Arnold connected with a rebound and lay-in, however, to make it an eight-point contest entering the fourth.
The Cyclones surged ahead by 14 in the the fourth quarter with buckets from Miller and Robinson, but Arnold used a pair of buckets to pull North within striking distance.
Ball and White cut it to six, but time and made free throws from the Cyclones were too much to overcome for the Raiders.
The win gives Elizabethton additional momentum entering its tournament opener against county rival Happy Valley.
“I think it’s really strong because we’ve been playing some pretty solid basketball as a team,” Dugger added. “More people making contributions which has been important for us.”
A 20-0 start was followed by a three-point parade. There was no stopping Elizabethton’s girls in their final conference tilt of the regular season.
Five scored in double figures, while the team combined for 12 treys in a game that was over at the end of the half.
The Lady Cyclones (19-9, 8-2) led 46-22 at the break, then outscored Sullivan North (2-20, 0-10) 45-19 in the second half to produce the final tally.
“I knew they were going to play zone,” said Elizabethton coach Mike Wilson. “I watched the video and knew we could get shots. They were going to get open perimeter shots. I felt like we would shoot it well tonight. We didn’t shoot it well at their place, but I knew if they gave us those looks tonight we’d make them and they did. The kids played really well.”
Morgan Depew, behind five treys, paced the Lady Cyclones with 17 points. She also dished out 11 assists to post her first career double-double.
Caley Hodge delivered a strong second half to finish with a career-high 15 points, Reazyn DeMoss tallied 12 points, 11 boards, five assists a steal and a block.
Lauren McCurry had 11 points with three treys. Savannah Madgett played the role of solid defender, contributing three blocks and a steal.
The game was especially significant for Elizabethton’s lone senior Casey Jones, who scored 10 points in the first quarter en route to 13 in her final home game as a Lady Cyclone.
“Casey played well,” said Wilson. “She played great and we were thrilled for her. She’s a great kid and she’s been through a lot with the injuries and she’s battled back through all of that.
“We’re really proud of her and admire her for all she’s been through and willingness to go through all of that rehab and come back.”
Kaysey Williams with 18 was the lone scorer in double figures for the Lady Raiders.