WHITWELL, Tenn. -- With his team nursing a two-point halftime advantage in a must-win District 6-A tournament game, Signal Mountain basketball coach Wes Moore's instructions were simple.
"I told the guys if they wanted to play another half like that and have their season ended, it was up to them," Moore said. "There wasn't any big adjustments to make. It was just up to our kids to decide they wanted to keep playing."
The Eagles outscored host Whitwell 23-7 in the third quarter and pulled away for an 85-63 win that advanced them to the semifinals and secured a berth in next week's Region 3 tournament.
Hogan Whitwire scored 11 of his game-high 26 points in the third quarter, when he made three of his six 3-pointers, and Jon Patton added 17 of his 25 points in the second half.
"Those guys are both football players, and that competitiveness carries over into basketball," Moore said. "They push our other kids to go harder in practice and in games because they understand what intensity can do for a team."
Whitwell was playing without all-district post Cole Tucker, who had been ejected from Thursday's win over Marion County. Even without their leading scorer the Tigers led for much of the first half, and Justin Havis picked up the scoring slack, making five 3s and finishing with 18 points.
In the other boys' quarterfinal, South Pittsburg avenged two regular-season losses to Sale Creek with a 56-48 victory. The Pirates blew a 14-point first-half lead and trailed by four in the third quarter, but Zach Pratt scored all nine of his points during a rally late in that quarter, helping the Pirates regain the lead and move on to the semifinals and next week's region.
"It seems like all of our games lately have come down to the last couple of minutes," Pratt said. "It was frustrating when we lost the lead, but we've done it before so we knew we could still win."
Also Friday, Sale Creek's girls overcame 14 turnovers to hold off Lookout Valley 32-31 and advance to the region tournament, and Signal Mountain's girls came up short in a 42-39 season-ending loss to Van Buren. McKinsey Smith's layup with 57 seconds remaining put Van Buren ahead, and Tiffany Grissom made it a three-point lead with a free throw before the Lady Eagles missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...