Note: This story was last updated at 10 a.m.
It wasn’t the game anyone expected. In a battle of two top-ranked teams, Oak Ridge beat Fulton 81-31 at Wildcat Arena on Saturday.
The basketball game, the last in the regular season, was never really close. The Wildcats (29-2) were up by 16 points less than five minutes into the game, led 27-8 at the end of the first quarter, and went into halftime ahead 50-13. Junior guards Tee Higgins and Tajion Jones both had early dunks that fired up the loud, raucous standing-room-only crowd.
The Falcons (22-2), ranked number two in Class AA, shot 15 percent in the first half and probably didn’t do any better in the second, Coach Jody Wright said.
Meanwhile, Oak Ridge, ranked number eight in Class AAA, had 20 assists in the first half alone, a sign that the Wildcats were sharing the ball well, and they played their best game of the year, Coach Aaron Green said. Senior point guard Geevantay Gee had five of those first-half assists, and junior guard E.J. Bush had four.
Compare this year’s game to last year’s, when Oak Ridge needed a three-point shot from Tee Higgins with 3.1 seconds left to take a one-point victory. The Wildcats had such a large lead this year that the game ended with a running clock, and Green put in reserves with about four minutes remaining.
“We played really, really well,” Green said of the Wildcats, who finished this season 16-0 in District 3-AAA play on Friday night. “Without question, it’s the best game we’ve played.”
The 20 assists at halftime stood out for him. Oak Ridge has averaged about 18 assists per game this year.
“It’s rare that you get that in a game,” Green said of the halftime assists total, “and we had that in the first half.”
The game was played at the packed 2,225-seat Wildcat Arena. Several hundred fans who couldn’t find a seat lined the stairways and the perimeter of the arena. An estimated 400 to 500 people were turned away and not able to get in, and the concessions stand was sold out, Green said.
He said the two first-half fouls picked up by Kentel Williams hurt Fulton, and Oak Ridge was able to press more. The Wildcats also did a good job of keeping the Falcons out of the paint, Green said.
“One team showed up to play, and one didn’t,” Wright said after the 50-point loss for Fulton. “I thought we would get exposed, but not this bad.”
Higgins, Jones, and senior forward Javien Johnson scored 15 points each for Oak Ridge. Bush added 14. Higgins, who was named a Mr. Basketball finalist on Friday. also pulled down 11 rebounds, and he became the 20th Wildcat all-time to score 1,000 points.
“This is the best game our team has played all year,” Higgins said.
The Wildcats came out and played with intensity and as a team, Higgins said. They’ve been working with Green on sharing the ball, he said.
Johnson played his last regular-season game at Wildcat Arena on Saturday.
“It was emotional for me personally because Oak Ridge showed me so much on and off the court, so the least I could do was play hard,” Johnson said.
He was aware of the 20 assists at halftime.
“It’s a good stat, but it doesn’t surprise me because we are unselfish,” Johnson said.
Williams, a senior point guard, led Fulton with 12 points. No other Falcon scored more than six. Like the Wildcats, the Falcons, who finished the season with a 10-0 District 3-AA record, are undefeated in their district.
Jones, who was sick on Friday and unable to play, was one of the three leading scorers on Saturday for Oak Ridge. Besides scoring 15 points, he also pulled down five rebounds.
“I like this type of environment,” Jones said of the packed arena.
Oak Ridge has a week off before starting in the District 3-AAA tournament at Anderson County High School on Saturday, February 20. The Wildcats enter the district tournament as the top seed and are guaranteed a spot in the Region 2 tournament.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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