It was the biggest game in Crossville basketball history in more than a decade.
Therefore a packed gym and a lively crowd greeted the Scottsboro varsity boys basketball team for its Class 5A Northeast Sub-regional matchup with the Lions.
But the game was just as important to Scottsboro, said senior forward Nate Boleware.
“[Crossville] had a real big crowd,” he said, “but we were ready to fight through it because we wanted to go to Jacksonville.”
Scottsboro used a strong second quarter to build a lead it would never relinquish en route to a 64-50 sub-regional victory over the Lions Tuesday night at Crossville High School.
The victory advanced the Wildcats to the Northeast Regional for the third time, with each appearance coming in the past five seasons.
“Happy for our seniors and this group,” said Scottsboro head coach Kenny Hill. “I know they’re excited. I’m proud for these guys to get to go. They played all year with a chip on their shoulder. A lot of people told them they weren’t going to be good. They play with a fire and intensity that makes them easy to coach. You don’t have to coach motivation. They’re the reason it happened.”
Scottsboro (15-16) plays Center Point (15-14) in a Class 5A Northeast Regional semifinal game Monday at 10:30 a.m. at Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
“I think it shows how hard of work we’ve put in,” said senior Landon Eustace of the regional appearance. “We don’t have the biggest guys or the most skilled guys, but we all give it our all everyday. It’s paying off. We’re still going strong and we’re not done yet.”
Added senior center Antwan Fennell, “Everybody’s going to show up and it’s going to be a good environment. We’re going to show everybody what we’re made of.”
Scottsboro got a balanced scoring attack in the victory. Butler Bell led the way with 15 points and Heath Phillips netted 14 while JaVaris Branford and Jordan Davis had 10 each and Boleware had nine, Jacob Cooper had five and Fennell had one.
Garrett Bouldin scored 21 points for Crossville (10-14) , which also got 13 from Trenton Bryant and eight from Jesse Bailey.
Crossville lead by as many as four points in the early going, but Scottsboro moved in front 19-13 after one quarter before outscoring the Lions 17-8 in the second to build a 36-21 halftime advantage. Boleware drained a 3-pointer right before time expired, one of three treys in the quarter for the Wildcats.
“We really hunkered down [in the second quarter],” Bell said. “We let the nerves settle down and got in the flow of the game, and that was kind of the deciding point of the game.”
Crossville made a run in the second half, getting within 45-35 after three quarters and cutting Scottsboro's lead to six midway through the fourth. But Davis sank two free throws — Scottsboro was 25-of-27 from the free-throw line — and Cooper made a reverse layup after a wild scramble for possession after a Scottsboro missed shot to regain the momentum for the Wildcats, who outscored the Lions 15-8 from that point on to seal it.
“Crossville has a tradition of basketball,” Hill said. “Their fans have been waiting for this moment. I told our guys ‘this is not going to be easy. You’re going to have to come in here and fight.’ It was a great effort by our guys.”
Despite the ups and downs of the season, which included losing starting sophomore point guard B.J. Harris to a season-ending injury, Phillips said the Wildcats just kept “going to work” everyday.
“No matter what’s happened, doesn’t matter what we face,” he said. “We just play our hearts out, and here we are.”