KNOXVILLE—Oak Ridge senior Tee Higgins scored 33 points, a career high, during a 76-65 win at Fulton on Saturday.
Higgins hit three three-point shots, made 12 free throws (he had 14 attempts), and pulled down 10 rebounds.
“He told me on the way over here he was ready to go,” Oak Ridge Coach Aaron Green said.
Falcons fans remember Higgins. In the last game at Jody Wright Arena two years ago—the gym was loud, hot, and packed that night, too—Higgins hit a three-point shot with 3.1 seconds left to give Oak Ridge a one-point victory. The Wildcats had been down by two, but Higgins, who was then a sophomore, finished the dramatic all-out battle between the two top-five teams. Besides the game-winning three-pointer, he had 20 points and 14 rebounds in that classic game.
The Wildcats didn’t get off to a great start this year in the non-district game on Saturday, the last of the regular season for Oak Ridge. Fulton jumped out to an early 4-0 lead and led for much of the first quarter.
“We gave up some easy points defensively,” Green said.
But Oak Ridge (24-2, 16-0 District 3-AAA) went on a 23-7 scoring run in the second quarter to open up a 35-20 halftime lead.
The Wildcats also didn’t finish well, giving up a lead of as many as 30 points in the second half. It was a tough, physical game, with two bloody noses.
But Higgins did a good job of taking the ball to the basket, rather than settling for three-point shot attempts, Green said.
Higgins, a Mr. Basketball finalist last year, had more confidence in his shots, Green said. Higgins, who has signed to play football at Clemson, didn’t play basketball early this season in order to focus on football, and he has missed some games since due to football commitments.
Oak Ridge senior Tajion Jones, a Mr. Basketball finalist this year, added 24 points for the Wildcats, with four of those on three-point shots.
No other Wildcat scored more than six.
Sophomore Trey Davis led Fulton (20-3, 9-0 District 3-AA) with 19 points. Falcons freshman Edward Lacy scored nine, and senior Donovan Filer added eight.
The Wildcats have won 12 straight games. They finished undefeated in the district with 16 wins and no losses.
Their last loss, a 53-47 defeat, was to Wayne (Ohio) in the Arby’s Classic basketball tournament on December 30 in Bristol.
The annual Oak Ridge-Fulton basketball games between the boys’ and girls’ teams near the end of the season have been among the highlights of the regular season for the last few years.
The Wildcats blew out Fulton 81-31 at home last year, although the Falcons went on to win the Class AA state championship. But the Oak Ridge-Fulton games were closer the previous two years: 59-58 in 2015 (that’s the year Higgins gave Oak Ridge the one-point lead with 3.1 seconds left) and 57-53 in 2014.
Before Saturday, the loser of the Oak Ridge-Fulton game has gone to the state tournament for the previous three years. Green said he hopes to break that streak this year.
Oak Ridge, the regular season district champion and the top seed in the district, will next play in the semifinal game of the District 3-AAA tournament at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 18, at Clinton High School. Karns is the number two seed, and Powell is number three.
It’s not clear if senior E.J. Bush will be back for the playoffs. Bush is a 6-foot-4 senior who was injured in the 82-72 win over Science Hill in the Champion Chevrolet Shootout in Johnson City on December 17. He tore his meniscus and had surgery December 26. He’s doing well with rehabilitation and goes back to the doctor on February 20, Green said.
Bush, a veteran who improved during the playoffs last season, was named most valuable player in the Region 2-AAA tournament in 2016. Bush can score 16-20 points per game and pull down six to 10 rebounds per game.
Here is a video of a dunk by Higgins during Saturday night’s game, courtesy of Myles Hebrard.
— Myles Hebrard (@myleshebrard) February 12, 2017
See more photos here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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