Note: This story was last updated at 11:02 p.m.
MURFREESBORO—Oak Ridge advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 1999 with a 66-45 win over Jefferson County in Murfreesboro on Wednesday.
The Wildcats (31-7) will play Arlington (29-4) in Murfreesboro at 11:30 a.m. CDT Friday (12:30 p.m. EDT) in a Class AAA state boys’ basketball semifinal game.
The Wildcats said teamwork was key to the Wednesday afternoon quarterfinal win at Murphy Center at Middle Tennessee State University. They cited steals—Oak Ridge had nine total—double-teaming on defense against the tall Patriots team, and improvements in rebounding compared to their performance during a Nov. 27 win over Jefferson County (30-6).
“We played more as a team,” said senior guard Jaylin Henderson, who scored 11 points and had four steals. “I think we were hot.”
“We prepared really well,” said senior forward Isaac Merian, who scored eight and had eight rebounds.
Six Oak Ridge players scored eight points or more. They were led by senior forward Kevin Steen, who had 15; Henderson; and freshman reserve guard Tee Higgins, who had 10. Oak Ridge led the entire game.
Oak Ridge Coach Aaron Green said defensive pressure was also important. He said Jefferson County likes to “slow down the game and pound inside,” while Oak Ridge wants to run. The Patriots finished with 32 percent shooting from the field, while the Wildcats shot 55 percent.
“We had great balance,” Green said. “A lot of guys came off the bench ready to play.”
The Wildcats, a Region 2 team, will spend the next two days getting ready for their Final Four game against the Arlington Tigers, a Region 7 team from Shelby County near Memphis.
Green said Arlington is a good, athletic team that features C.J. Anderson, who is expected to play for the University of Massachusetts.
Arlington advanced to the semifinals in another quarterfinal game on Wednesday by beating the Siegel Stars of Murfreesboro (31-2) in overtime 86-80.
It is the second consecutive trip to the state tournament for the Wildcats, although Oak Ridge has already made it one step further this year than they did last year. In 2013, Oak Ridge was eliminated in the quarterfinals in a 69-47 loss to the Southwind Jaguars.
It was the first trip to the state tournament for Jefferson County since the school was established in 1976, Coach Chris Boore said. He said his players are young, but they tried to approach the playoff game just like any other. Still, they struggled to shoot well.
“We couldn’t get the shots to fall,” Boore said.
He said the Wildcats shot better than expected from three-point range. Oak Ridge was 5 for 15 from three-point range, while Jefferson County, a Region 1 team, was 0-6. Steen and Higgins had two each for the Wildcats.
Boore said he hopes to use the loss as a learning experience for his players, helping them to “grow and do better.”
Top scorers for Jefferson County were Brice Cusick and Kyle Briggs—they each had 14 points—and John Bryant with 12.
The other semifinal game on Friday starts at 10 a.m., and it features Blackman (26-6) and Brentwood (32-2).
The final game in the 2014 BlueCross Basketball Championships is at 2 p.m. Saturday.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See the TSSAA Class AAA state boys’ basketball championship bracket here.