Note: This story was updated at 9 a.m. Feb. 28.
Oak Ridge senior Anthony Gibson again led the Wildcats in a playoff win, this time in a Region 2-AAA quarterfinal win against West at home on Saturday.
Gibson, a 6-foot-1 guard, scored a game-high 18 points in the elimination game at Wildcat Arena on Saturday. He had four three-points shots for 12 of those points.
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, Gibson led Oak Ridge with 24 points as the Wildcats won their fifth straight District 3-AAA championship with an 86-58 defeat of Powell.
With the Region 2 quarterfinal win on Saturday, Oak Ridge advanced to play Maryville at Wildcat Arena at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in a semifinal elimination game. The winner of the Tuesday night Oak Ridge-Maryville game will move on to play in the Region 2-AAA championship. The season will be over for the loser.
“This is the toughest game of the year,” Oak Ridge Coach Aaron Green said. “There’s a lot on the line across the state.”
After Tuesday, there will only be 16 teams left in the basketball playoffs in Class AAA.
Whoever makes it to the regional championship is guaranteed at least two more games: the regional championship and a sectional game. In the Class AAA sectionals, the Region 2 winner will host the Region 1 loser, and the Region 2 loser will visit the Region 1 winner.
Oak Ridge had double-digit leads against West in each of the first two quarters on Saturday: 14-2 at the end of the first quarter and 28-12 at the half. The Wildcats led by almost 20 points, 45-25, at the end of the third quarter. The final score was 68-38.
West was patient, but that may have hurt them, Green said.
When a team defends well against Higgins, or Jones, or Young, that opens up someone else like Gibson, Green said.
Oak Ridge had five dunks, including two each by seniors Tajion Jones and Tyshawn Young, and one by senior Tee Higgins. Jones had a two-handed reverse dunk in the second quarter, and Higgins flew down the lane in the fourth quarter on a dunk for six-year-old cancer survivor AJ Cucksey, who sat on the bench with the Wildcats. Higgins had a great feed across the lane to Young for a first-quarter dunk, and Oak Ridge junior point guard Levert Smith had a nice feed to Young, who was under the basket, for a dunk in the fourth quarter.
During the game, Smith became the single-season assist leader for Oak Ridge, with 187 assists this year, according to broadcaster David Clary. And Jones hit his 200th career three-point shot, becoming only the second Wildcat to do that, Clary said. (Steve Younkin (2002-2006) is the other.)
The Saturday night game was the first time Oak Ridge and West, of Knoxville, had played since the 2014-2015 season. The Wildcats lost that one 70-54.
Besides Gibson, other Wildcats scoring in double digits on Saturday were Higgins with 12 and Young with 11.
The Rebels had no players scoring in double digits. They were led by senior Quez Johnson with nine points and senior Jadarious Humphrey with eight.
The tall Oak Ridge senior class is considered one of the best to play for the Wildcats. (While Gibson is 6-foot-1, Higgins and Young are both 6-foot-5, and Jones and E.J. Bush, who is currently out with a knee injury, are both 6-foot-4.)
“I think, in my opinion, it’s probably one of the best classes we’ve had in the history of Oak Ridge basketball,” Green said. “I would put this class up against anybody.”
He said the members of the senior class are great players, and they’re also great kids. Higgins will play football at Clemson, Young plans to go to medical school, and Bush, Gibson, and Jones will play college basketball, Green said.
Besides their impressive number of wins—they were undefeated in District 3-AAA this year, for the second straight season—this group of seniors has also had two Mr. Basketball finalists, Higgins last year and Jones this year.
Oak Ridge (27-2) was the District 3-AAA tournament champion, and Maryville (24-5) was the District 4-AAA tournament runner-up.
The Rebels eliminated Karns 81-62 in another Region 2 quarterfinal game on Saturday.
The Wildcats beat Maryville once during the regular season in 2014-2015, but lost to the Rebels 60-56 in the Region 2-AAA championship. Maryville was led in that game by T.D. Blackmon, who was then a sophomore. Oak Ridge went on to win a sectional game and advance to the state quarterfinals.
Powell (22-9) and Bearden (20-8) will face off in the other Region 2 semifinal on Tuesday. That game starts at 6 p.m. at Wildcat Arena.
The Panthers eliminated Hardin Valley 77-60 in the third Region 2-AAA quarterfinal game on Saturday to advance to the semifinals on Tuesday, and the Bulldogs beat Clinton 90-66.
Green said Bush, who had surgery for a torn meniscus, is doing really well, including in rehabilitation, and he was released last Monday to start doing basketball activities. Green said Bush, who hasn’t played since December, may have been the best player on the team when he was hurt. He said Bush could be back playing for the team if the Wildcats keep winning.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See more photos here.
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