KNOXVILLE—A tough defensive effort propelled the Jefferson Middle School boys basketball team to a fifth-place finish in the West Valley Christmas Tournament.
The Eagles (16-4) closed out the tournament with a 44-23 victory over Knoxville Christian on Friday at West Valley Middle School.
Jefferson had offensive struggles against the overmatched Knights, but that was nothing new for the Eagles, who are regulars at West Knox County holiday tournaments.
“It seemed like there was a lid on the basket today,” Jefferson Coach Jason Nussbaum said. “It’s been that way throughout the whole tournament. We’ve had trouble scoring all week.
“I’m proud of our boys for the way we played defense today. Our defense was good in the tournament.”
The Eagles won three of four at West Valley, and Nussbaum said that it was Jefferson’s defense that was key even in its lone loss to Bearden, which features one of the Knox County Middle School Basketball Conference’s most potent attacks.
“Our defense was great,” Nussbaum said. “We played some good teams and we held most of them to 20 points or so.
“We played Bearden and we lost to them 22-20, and I know that some of these teams are averaging 60 points per game. Good defense will keep you in every game you play, and we were in every game here. We gave ourselves a chance to win all of these games, and we really should have won all of them.”
The Eagles defense was especially stingy in the opening quarter Friday as they completely stifled the Knights (13-3). Jefferson held a 9-0 lead heading to the second quarter.
“Offensively, it was tough for us. It’s always hard to come in and shake the rust off after Christmas,” Nussbaum said.
Knoxville Christian finally got on the board when Isaiah Smith, one of the Knights’ top offensive players, scored to pull his squad to within 9-2 with 5 minutes, 19 seconds remaining in the second quarter. J.D. Price scored the next basket of the contest to make it 9-4 a short time later.
But Jefferson quickly regained control. The Eagles closed the opening half by outscoring the Knights 8-2 down the stretch.
After that, the game’s outcome was never in doubt.
Jacob Kesterson scored a game-high 16 points for Jefferson. Jaylen Heyward, who scored five points against Knoxville Christian Friday, represented the Eagles on the all-tournament team.
Despite some scoring woes for his squad, Nussbaum was grateful to play in West Knoxville over the extended school break.
“You never know what’s going to happen after Christmas but we needed to play this week,” he said. “We didn’t play at all over the Thanksgiving Break, and when we came back, we were really rusty.”
The Eagles won’t return to action until Saturday, January 7, and that game will be one of the biggest of the season. They’ll take on Robertsville Middle School at the Wildcat Arena at 7 p.m.
“When we come back, we’ll have a big game,” Nussbaum said. “We’ll play Robertsville, and we’ll have to continue to get better because our district tournament starts on January 31.
“We’re hoping to go a long way beyond that.”
For Knoxville Christian (which leads the Knoxville Independent Schools League with a perfect 12-0 conference record), Price scored seven points. Draven Copeland and Smith scored six points each. Smith received all-tournament honors.
Ken Lay is a freelance contributor to Oak Ridge Today.
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