Note: This story was last updated at 9 p.m.
Sophomore guard T.D. Blackmon hit three three-pointers in the first half and knocked down 10 of 11 free throws in the second to give Maryville a 60-56 edge over Oak Ridge in the Region 2-AAA Championship at Wildcat Arena on Sunday.
But the playoff run isn’t over for the Wildcats (28-3). As Region 2 Runner-Up, they’ll travel to Johnson City to play Science Hill, the Region 1 Champion, in a sectional game at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Blackmon led all scorers with 23 points in the regional final on Sunday.
“He got to the foul line. He got to the basket,” Oak Ridge Coach Aaron Green said. “We didn’t do a good job of guarding him.”
The Rebels (25-6) hit seven three-pointers against the Wildcats on Sunday, including five in the first quarter alone. That gave them a 29-26 lead at halftime, with 18 of those points coming from three-point shots.
“To me, that was the difference,” Green said after the “frustrating, disappointing loss.”
Maryville Coach Mark Eldridge said the Rebels shoot about 40 percent from three-point range. Hitting those shots in the first half allowed the Rebels to get to the rim in the second.
“What we do well has the ability to hurt Oak Ridge,” Eldridge said.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats struggled from three-point range, knocking down only two all night and missing four in about the last minute alone.
Eldridge said Oak Ridge is aggressive, but the Rebels find open spots and knock down shots.
“We shoot the eyes out of them,” said Eldridge.
On the other end of the court, Maryville tried to keep Oak Ridge out of the paint.
Green said Oak Ridge was out-rebounded for the second night in a row. Before the Region 2 semifinals on Saturday and finals on Sunday, the Wildcats had only been out-rebounded four times this season.
Green said Maryville senior post Bryce Miller had eight offensive rebounds and 13 rebounds total. The Wildcats were out-rebounded by five against Heritage in the semifinals on Saturday, and Maryville out-rebounded Oak Ridge 32 to 21 in the finals on Sunday, the coach said.
“They went and got the ball more aggressively than we did,” Green said of the Rebels. “It’s a matter of heart and effort. If you give them a second chance, it doesn’t matter how good you play on defense.”
The Wildcats trailed by as much as nine points in the third quarter, but junior point guard Geevantay Gee helped Oak Ridge tie the game twice during the fourth, once on a layup and once on free throws.
But, led by the 12 points of Blackmon in that final quarter, mostly on free throws, the Rebels, who shoot about 75 percent from the line, kept retaking the lead and extending it.
Oak Ridge never led after the 1:26 mark in the first quarter.
The loss snapped a 14-game win streak for the Wildcats. It was their first in-state defeat of the season.
“We just came out determined to win,” said Miller, who scored 15 points for Maryville and is a wide receiver going to play football at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.
Junior forward Javien Johnson was the leading scorer for Oak Ridge, with 16 points. Gee had 15. Sophomore guard/forward Tee Higgins, who is often one of the Wildcats’ leading scorers, was held to seven.
Oak Ridge beat Maryville 62-61 during the regular season at home in November.
But the Rebels knocked off two teams that had been top teams in the Associated Press Top 10 rankings for Class AAA in February in back-to-back games this past weekend: Maryville beat Bearden, which had been ranked number two, in a Region 2-AAA semifinal game on Saturday, and Oak Ridge, which had been number one, in the championship on Sunday.
The Wildcats also lost in the Region 2 Championship last year—Powell won that one—but still went on to play in the Class AAA state championship game.
Dobyns-Bennett, the Region 1 Runner-Up, will play at Maryville, the Region 2 Champion, at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Oak Ridge beat Science Hill 67-43 in a December game, but Green said the Hilltoppers are a different team now. Green said they’re a pressing, fast-breaking team like Oak Ridge, but they might have slowed down a bit.
The Hilltoppers (23-14) have won their last three in a row, including the Region 1 Championship against Dobyns-Bennett (24-8) on Sunday.
See the Class AAA regional tournament brackets here.
See the sectional pairings here. Sectional winners advance to the state tournament next week in Murfreesboro.
More information will be added as it becomes available.