KARNS—Oak Ridge fans grew nervous as Karns chipped away at a 13-point halftime lead on Saturday night, but the Wildcats were able to hang on for a 70-64 win, handing the Beavers their first district loss and giving the fans a satisfying victory.
The Wildcats were up 39-26 at halftime, but Karns knocked the lead down to 65-64 with 41 seconds left in the hard-fought basketball game.
But Oak Ridge (17-5, 7-1 in District 3) held the lead and then widened it in the last half-minute through big plays and clutch free throws.
The Wildcats weren’t able to stop senior Devin Sibley of Karns on Saturday—he scored 29 points—but seniors Isaac Merian and Jaylin Henderson of Oak Ridge combined for 40 points, scoring 20 each. Ted Mitchell added 14, Gevantay Gee knocked down 11, and Kevin Steen contributed 5.
Keys to the game were the big plays by several Wildcats, including Henderson and Merian; six-of-six shooting from the foul line by Gee in the fourth quarter; and two clutch free throws by Steen with 28 seconds left to play, Oak Ridge Coach Aaron Green said. Mitchell and his 14 points, including seven in the fourth quarter, were the “X factor,” Green said.
“We had a lot of guys contribute to the win,” Green said.
The game against Karns (15-4, 8-1) had originally been scheduled for this past Tuesday, but it was postponed as many schools, including Oak Ridge, delayed their returns from Winter Break as an arctic air mass lingered over the area and temperatures dropped to unusually cold levels.
The delay gave Merian more time to heal. The 6-foot-6 senior had injured his right shoulder in the 2013 Arby’s Classic in Bristol in December and did not play against Gibbs a week ago. His recovery had been been day-to-day, but he was released to play on Friday morning, Green said. Playing against Karns on Saturday, Merian had a key block with less than 30 seconds to play, knocked down two free throws with about six seconds left, and had a two-handed dunk halfway through the third quarter that energized Oak Ridge fans.
Green said the Wildcats didn’t get off to a great start on Saturday—the Beavers were on top 17-14 at the end of the first quarter—but Oak Ridge switched to zone play in the second quarter and stretched its lead. The Wildcats led the entire second half.
He said the Wildcats regained their district lead with Saturday night’s win. But Green said there are plenty of good teams remaining on the schedule, including a “tough, scrappy” Clinton team on Tuesday.
Also Saturday, the Lady Wildcats (4-14, 3-5) beat Karns (1-19, 1-8) in a 37-33 win, despite being down four starters.
The girls play at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Clinton, and the boys start at 8 p.m. Both teams prevailed over Clinton in November.