The Cougars hit 19 of 28 free throws to separate themselves from Cocke County and claim a 56-49 win in the Action Athletics Christmas Tournament.
Central (5-10) advanced to meet host Sullivan North on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in the semifinals. Sullivan South plays Tri-Cities Christian in the late semifinal after the Rebels outgunned Cloudland 89-72 and the Eagles topped John Battle 70-62.
Sullivan North rolls, Volunteer bounces back in Action Athletics tourney
Cocke County (4-10) opened with 3-for-4 effort from the 3-point line to build a first-quarter advantage. Isaiah Elliott scored seven in the period to boost the Fighting Cocks to a 16-12 lead.
The Cougars staged a comeback behind Preston Sams’ game-high 22 points and 10 from Justin Fields. They executed a 10-2 run to grab the lead in the second quarter, and Central led 29-25 at the break.
Cocke County went back out front in the third before turnovers began to disrupt its game.
“Cocke County became a little frustrated when they realized they couldn’t do what they wanted,” Central coach Derek McGhee said. “Cocke County began to foul and we took care of the ball. We knew they would be physical, but it was a little more physical there in the fourth quarter.”
The Cougars capitalized on opportunities from the line in the fourth quarter, hitting 12 of 18 free throws to secure the victory.
View Cheryl Gray’s photos from the Central-Cocke County game
“What we did at the line in the fourth quarter earned us that win,” McGhee said.
Joltin Harrison and Dawson Arnold each scored eight points for the Cougars. A.J. Mills tallied 11 points and Elliott scored 10 for the Fighting Cocks.
Sullivan South 89, Cloudland 72
After allowing the Highlanders (6-4) to hang around in the first half, the Rebels (11-1) torched them over the final two quarters.
“We responded very well in the second half,” South coach Michael McMeans said. “One of the biggest things was bringing Creed Musick off the bench. We had to find someone that wanted to play hard and create hustle plays for us. He did that and gave us a spark with his energy off the bench.”
Musick contributed 12 points to the winning effort, and South’s big three combined for 48 points. Ben Diamond notched 17, Gannon Chase 16 and Cole Layne 15. Cooper Jackson chipped in with 11 points.
After trailing 10-2 at the start of the game, Cloudland battled back with a hot second period. Conner Birchfield scored seven straight unanswered points to account for much of the damage.
“Cloudland played harder than us,” McMeans said. “We realized we had to step it up, so we finally did. We have to come out and play a little bit harder than that to open up.”
South held a 38-32 lead at the half, cut loose for a 65-50 advantage and iced the win in the fourth.
Birchfield finished with a game-high 22 points. Elijah Blair added 15 and Hunter Shell had 11.
Tri-Cities Christian 70, John Battle 62
The Eagles (3-3) rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to defeat the Trojans (3-3) and set up the all-Sullivan County semifinals.
“We were soft in the first half and we knew we couldn’t play that way in this tournament,” Tri-Cities Christian coach David Blythe said. “We had to take care of the ball in the second half and that’s what we did. We had to have some confidence in ourselves to get this job done in the end. If we can stay in our element, we can do that.”
Spearheading the comeback from a 35-26 halftime deficit were Adam Pigeon, who finished with 18 points, Gavyn Etter (13), Jesse Young (11) and Drew Correll (10). The Eagles’ momentum carried them to a 58-51 lead in the fourth, and they secured their win at the free-throw line and by grabbing offensive rebounds after misses.
Zach Smith scored a game-high 23 for John Battle, and Reed Samuel followed with 16.