In the process, the Hilltoppers (12-0) produced the first home-floor loss for the Blue Devils (3-2) since January 2015.
It sure wasn’t easy, but Science Hill got it done in the face of extreme intensity.
“Honestly, it was like a postseason game for both teams,” said 16-year Hilltoppers coach Ken Cutlip. “It was pretty crazy out there. We knew it’d come down to the wire and fortunately we were able to make good decisions down the stretch.
“My hat’s off to them. We got them down early, but they have a terrific program and have had for years, and my goodness they are relentless.”
Longtime Gate City coach Scott Vermillion stood proud afterward.
“It was a great game between two good teams,” Vermillion said. “Science Hill’s program is top shelf and I think ours is, too. It comes down to one possession and that’s all you can ask for.”
And what about that home-court win streak, rumored to be some 60 games?
“It could be, it could be, but that’s over,” Vermillion said. “Honestly, our team has not talked about that. We could schedule teams that aren’t very good and keep our win streak going, but that doesn’t make us better.
“Games like this in December against teams like this, that helps us in March.”
’TOPPERS LEAD EARLY, HANG ON
Science Hill claimed the lead for good at 19-17 on a deep 3-point jumper by Kenyan Cutlip with two minutes left in the first quarter, and from there the Hilltoppers managed to hold a small working margin throughout the evening.
The ’Toppers, up 26-19 after one quarter and 40-31 at intermission, twice held leads of 11 points in the first half, but Gate City never went away.
The Blue Devils, who hit 7 of 22 attempts from 3-point range against a physical and relentless man-to-man defense, got back to within 51-45 by the end of the third period and had several chances to draw even in the final quarter.
But again, Science Hill would not allow the home team to get over the hump.
“Obviously that second half was the most intense environment we’ve faced all year,” Coach Cutlip said. “I’m really proud of the kids.
“Our plan was to use our depth and keep fresh bodies on those two (Bradley Dean and Jon Compton) all night, because their range is from when they cross the Tennessee state line. We got stops when we had to have them.”
DOWN THE STRETCH
The Hilltoppers, leading 58-55 with 2:05 to play, connected on 16 of 20 free throws for the game, including 10 of 12 in the final 1:40 of play.
Gate City had its chances late, but the Blue Devils missed five of a dozen free throws over the game’s final two minutes, and that may have been the difference in the outcome.
The Blue Devils were not out of it until Science Hill’s Hunter Phillips made the second of two free throws with 2.8 on the clock.
Dean, Gate City’s 6-foot-2 senior scoring machine, finished with 35 points but did not have his best shooting night. He made 9 of 28 shots from the floor against a hard-knock defense and 15 of 23 from the foul line.
Compton, who shot 7-for-13 from the field, scored 18 for Vermillion’s squad.
Science Hill, which shot 48% from the floor to Gate City’s 37.7%, displayed terrific offensive balance, led by the 17-point outing of Cutlip.
Hilltoppers guard Jordan McLoyd, who hit 3 of 5 shots from beyond the arc, scored 13 points before fouling out. Phillips added 11.
In the fairly clean game, Science Hill committed 13 turnovers and Gate City turned it over nine times.