Powell had more rebounds and Oak Ridge Coach Aaron Green wasn’t pleased with the defense, but the Wildcats prevailed over the Panthers in a Region 2-AAA semifinal game with help from the 32 points of juniors E.J. Bush and Tee Higgins.
The 53-48 win in a playoff elimination game at Wildcat Arena on Tuesday sends Oak Ridge (33-2) to the Region 2-AAA championship game on Thursday. Oak Ridge will face Karns (22-7) for the fourth time this season. The Wildcats have won the previous three contests.
Tuesday’s game was the fourth time that Oak Ridge battled Powell (22-11) this season. The Wildcats won all four matches, a difficult feat, Green said. Two of the wins were in the regular season, one was in the District 3-AAA tournament, and the last was in the Region 2-AAA tournament on Tuesday.
It’s hard to beat a team four straight times, Green said. The Tuesday night game was the closest of the four this year.
“I told the guys the last two days this is going to be a dog fight,” Green said. “This is the toughest game of the year.”
By winning the semifinal game, Oak Ridge is guaranteed at least two more games. The first is the Region 2 championship and the second is a sectional game. In the sectionals, the Region 1 winner will play the Region 2 runner-up, and the Region 2 winner will play the Region 1 runner-up. Sectional winners advance to the state tournament.
Karns won the other Region 2-AAA semifinal game at Wildcat Arena on Tuesday, defeating Central 81-70 in a game that the Bobcats had narrowed to two points in the fourth quarter. The Beavers lost to the Bobcats (21-12) twice in the regular season, but then beat them twice in the postseason.
Green said Oak Ridge was out-rebounded by Powell by nine on Tuesday. After 35 games, it’s only the fourth time this year that the Wildcats have had fewer rebounds than an opponent, Green said.
Oak Ridge needs to works on defensive fundamentals, including player stances, sprinting to the ball, playing competitively, and toughness, Green said.
“Defense and rebounding win championships,” Green said. “We did not rebound tonight. We did not defend tonight.”
Green said Powell shot 55 percent from field goal range and 71 percent in the first half and had some big three-point shots, including three in the fourth quarter that kept a win within reach.
Bush and Higgins kept the Oak Ridge offense alive in the first half, with 10 points each. Higgins, who had a game-high 18 points, gave the Wildcats a 20-18 lead late in the second quarter with one three-point shot and helped Oak Ridge keep the lead with another three-pointer about one minute later.
Bush, who finished with four rebounds, scored eight of his 14 points in the second quarter.
Powell, which started four seniors Tuesday, had a brief lead in the second quarter and tied the game once in the third, but the Panthers trailed the rest of the time.
As they did in the quarterfinal win against Farragut on Saturday, Higgins and senior Javien Johnson again knocked down crucial free throws in the fourth quarter to help seal the win for Oak Ridge. Higgins made five free throws in the last 28.8 seconds, and Johnson made four in the fourth quarter.
Johnson finished with six points, and junior Tajion Jones had eight, including two three-point shots in the third quarter.
Green said Oak Ridge hasn’t shot well the last two games. But when you can win despite poor shooting, you’re doing something right, Green said.
“We’re very, very fortunate” to get the win Tuesday, he said.
Powell was led by senior Jackson Steeley with 13 points and senior Conley Hamilton with 12.
The Tuesday night Region 2-AAA semifinal games between Oak Ridge and Powell, and Karns and Central, were re-matches of the District 3-AAA semifinal games at Anderson County High School in February. And the outcomes were the same, with Oak Ridge and Karns again advancing to face each other in a championship game.
In the Karns-Central game on Tuesday, the Beavers were led by junior guard Taylor Everett with 23 points, sophomore point guard K.J. Hawkins with 13, senior wing Devin Harper with 12, and senior Jordan Coffin and freshman wing Cartez Campbell with 11 each.
Senior guard Matt Randolph led Central with 23 points. Freshman wing Teahzjawon Hodge-Harper had 19 and junior post Trey Mitchell scored 15.
The Region 2-AAA championship between Oak Ridge and Karns starts at 7 p.m. Thursday at Wildcat Arena.
Oak Ridge last won a Region 2 championship in 2013, when the Wildcats beat Maryville.
The Wildcats lost to Powell in the Region 2 Championship in 2014 before advancing to the Class AAA state championship, where they finished as state runner-up. Oak Ridge lost to Maryville in the Region 2 championship last year.
David Crockett and Science Hill will play for the Region 1 championship at Morristown East High School at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The sectionals will be at 7 p.m. Monday. See the 2016 tournament brackets here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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