Running out front of the pack in the Three Rivers Conference, South (16-2, 4-0) snared a 73-59 workmanlike league win Friday night over Sullivan Central, which defended the Dickie Warren Dome best it could under the circumstances.
“In conference, up here at Central ... it’s a rivalry game,” said South coach Michael McMeans. “And Central played great — it’s a credit to them. They were ready to play and they made some shots.
“But we’ve got to go on the road and win those games. If you’re going to win the conference, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
View Cheryl Gray’s 📸📸📸from Friday
The Cougars, who had won five of their last six but were playing without injured starters Ty Barb and Bryson Crabtree, fought valiantly and actually led 26-22 early in the second period behind the interior play of hard-working Noah Beverly.
But it was at that time that Cooper Johnson knocked down two straight 3-point jumpers to put South ahead to stay, 28-26.
The sophomore, who hit four from beyond the arc all told in scoring 12 points, made another 3 late in the period, helping the Rebels lead 39-32 at halftime.
“Cooper played well and kind of kept us in it in the first half,” McMeans said. “We’ve kind of been waiting on that. I was proud of him. He gave us a big boost.”
But it was South senior guard Ben Diamond who led all scorers with 20 points.
“Ben Diamond is my favorite player in the whole area and I think he’s the best,” said Central coach Derek McGhee. “You can’t stay in front of him. He could be scoring 40 points a game, but he’s always trying to involve his teammates.
“But I’m proud of my boys tonight. We had some kids who ordinarily don’t get a lot of playing time step up.
“South is just so good, though,” McGhee said.
The Rebels, whose biggest lead of the night was 66-45 midway through the final quarter, received 13 points from Gannon Chase and 11 from Cole Layne.
In addition, powerful Cam Necessary finessed his way quite well on the inside, scoring nine points and keeping several South possessions alive on the glass.
Central (7-12, 2-3) was led by the 10-point game of Josh Fields. Beverly, Joltin Harrison, Preston Sams and Ethan Lane all scored nine points for the Cougars, who expect both Barb and Crabtree back next week.
CENTRAL GIRLS KEEP ROLLING
The No. 7 Class AA girls team in Tennessee adjusted to temporary life without Abbey Crawford, turning in a huge second half to remain perfect in league play with a 48-37 victory over the Lady Rebels.
With Crawford out fighting an illness, Peyton Sams and Avery Leming both stepped up with three 3-point jumpers to propel a second-half comeback by the Lady Cougars (16-2, 5-0), who trailed 21-17 at halftime.
Leming hit all three of her bombs and Sams bagged two in the third quarter, when Central outscored South (7-10, 1-3) by a 23-9 margin to gain control.
Sams, who received excellent support with the 13-point game of Macy McClellan, led all scorers with 18 points.
The Lady Rebels received 13 points from McKenzie Littleton and 11 from Alex Harris. The pair combined for all five of South’s 3-point makes in the game.