Note: This story was last updated at 12 p.m.
Farragut had this strategy coming into a Region 2-AAA quarterfinal game against Oak Ridge on Saturday: Limit the number of possessions, shorten the game, keep the score low, and play as little defense as possible.
The goal: Hold the ball for two minutes at a time, or about one-fourth of an eight-minute quarter.
For a while, it worked. Oak Ridge (32-2) found itself in the unusual position of being down two points at halftime, 17-15. But the Wildcats, the District 3 champion, found a way to win in the second half and they eked out a 39-30 victory to advance to a Region 2-AAA semifinal against Powell at Wildcat Arena on Tuesday.
“I’m just proud of our guys for getting it done,” Oak Ridge Coach Aaron Green said.
The Farragut strategy bewildered, frustrated, and irritated Oak Ridge fans. Fans and players called it “keep away” or “stall ball.” It’s a strategy often used near the end of a half or quarter, maybe when there is a minute or so remaining and a team wants the last shot, but it’s generally not used throughout a game.
It raised discussion of whether there should be a shot clock in high school basketball. On their first possession, the Admirals (19-12) held the ball for about two-and-a-half minutes. Throughout the low-scoring game, Farragut players who appeared to have a shot under or near the basket would kick it back out to the perimeter rather than taking the shot.
“Shoot the ball!” some Oak Ridge High School students yelled at the Admirals from the stands. “Shoot the ball!”
Farragut Coach Chris Cool said the strategy was the best option for the Admirals.
“That was the only way we could entertain the idea of beating Oak Ridge,” Cool said.
The Wildcats are taller and more athletic, he said, and they had 18 shots per quarter in their District 3-AAA victory over Karns on Tuesday. The Admirals limited Oak Ridge to six shots in the first quarter in the Region 2-AAA elimination quarterfinal on Saturday.
Also, the Wildcats had 54 rebounds against Karns. It takes Farragut five games to get that many rebounds, Cool said. The suggestion seemed to be: Limit Farragut shots, and you limit Oak Ridge rebounds. Limit Oak Ridge rebounds, and you reduce opportunities for the Wildcats to score.
Asked if the strategy works when a team is down, Cool said Farragut had planned to stick to it unless the Admirals, who often had five players along the three-point line and no one inside, ended up being down by double digits. That never happened.
Admirals had a “green light” to shoot if an Oak Ridge trap led to an opportunity for a Farragut “back door” layup. That happened several times.
The fewer possessions meant every rebound, every shot, and every free throw was more important.
It’s not unusual for Oak Ridge to have somewhere in the neighborhood of eight or nine made three-point shots in a game. On Saturday, they had one. And that shot, by junior Tajion Jones, didn’t fall until there were only four minutes left in the game. It was the only three-pointer in the game for either team, and it helped Oak Ridge open up a 31-24 lead.
Before then, the Wildcats had battled to take a 28-24 lead at the end of the third quarter. Like Farragut, they started running down the clock, playing “stall ball” themselves.
Green said junior E.J. Bush, who had a game-high 15 points, carried Oak Ridge offensively on the glass on Saturday and made some key free throws for the Wildcats in the third quarter.
Senior Javien Johnson and junior Tee Higgins also made some key free throws late in the game. Higgins hit four in the last minute, two with 50.4 seconds left and two more with 36.2 remaining, and Johnson added two with 24.7 seconds left.
Johnson pulled down three of his seven rebounds in the fourth quarter, when they helped ensure Oak Ridge’s lead. He said he’s never played a game like Saturday’s, with a team holding the ball that much. To help, Coach Green told the Wildcats to box out on rebounds and use two hands to get the basketball, and let the ball come out of their wrists on free throws—shoot with confidence, Johnson said.
Higgins finished with nine points, and Johnson ended with six. Jones had five, all in the fourth quarter. It was a low output for all three Wildcats.
Green said Oak Ridge had talked about the possible Farragut strategy in advance. Oak Ridge used a trap defense in the first half, but didn’t execute it well. The Wildcats didn’t do a good job of stopping Farragut handoffs and passes, he said.
Still, Oak Ridge kept its composure and made key free throws “down the stretch,” Green said.
Farragut was led by Luke Janney with 12 points and Nick Rogers with seven.
After the game, Green said he would advocate for a shot clock in high school basketball.
The Tuesday semifinal game against Powell (22-10) starts at 7:30 p.m. at Wildcat Arena. The Panthers, a District 3 team, beat Bearden, a District 4 team, 64-59 in another Region 2-AAA quarterfinal game on Saturday.
Oak Ridge has defeated Powell three times this year, twice in the regular season and once in the District 3-AAA tournament. But that doesn’t mean anything now, Green said.
“This time of year, you try to win one game,” he said.
Karns and Central, two other District 3 teams, will also play in a Region 2-AAA semifinal game on Tuesday, this one at 6 p.m. at Wildcat Arena. Karns (21-7) beat Maryville, a 21-7 District 4 team, 60-54, and Central (21-11) defeated Heritage (22-13) a District 4 team, 45-36.
The four District 3 teams swept the four District 4 teams in this year’s Region 2-AAA tournament.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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