NASHVILLE-Ensworth's continuous wave of talent eventually took its toll, as the top-ranked Tigers wore McCallie down in the fourth quarter and pulled away for a 66-55 victory in the Division II-AA state basketball state championship game Saturday at Lipscomb University.
Ensworth, which routinely substitutes five fresh players throughout a game, used that depth to break a fourth-quarter tie with a 9-2 run and claim its second state title in three years.
"That's the idea, to get to the fourth quarter and be fresher than the other team," said Tigers coach Ricky Bowers, who directed the football team to a state title last season. "That plan usually manifests itself not just in the other team's shooting being off, but also in us grabbing more loose balls and being able to set the pace of the game."
Playing in its first state basketball championship game, McCallie trailed for much of the first half but rallied to tie the score with a 22-point third quarter. But fatigue seemed to set in during the early moments of the fourth for the Blue Tornado, who still managed to hold Ensworth to its second-lowest point production in the last 19 games. The Tigers had beaten McCallie by 20 less than a month ago at Ensworth.
ENSWORTH 66, McCALLIE 55
Ensworth 12 16 19 19 - 66
McCallie 15 10 22 8 - 55
Ensworth (66) - Bowers, Watson 3, Alex Thomas 10, Dingess 5, Campbell, Hamilton 2, Benson, Parker 2, Corn Elder 22, Watkins, Downey 2, Carter 3, Conor McDermott 17.
McCallie (55) - Williams 4, Reese 7, Cochran, Lee 8, Calvin 9, Hibbard, O'Donohue 2, Hobbs, Cordell James 19, Meacham 6.
3-point goals: Ensworth 4 (Elder 2, Watson, Dingess); McCallie 7 (Calvin 3, James 3, Lee). Records: Ensworth 27-3; McCallie 19-8.
"It's tough because they sub so much and they run so many guys at you," said McCallie senior Chad Lee, who had eight points and 13 rebounds. "We started rushing our shots, and once we got behind we were taking even quicker shots trying to get something going.
"We played a good third quarter to get back into the game, but they took us out of what we wanted to do in the fourth."
A rebound and putback basket by Ensworth's 6-foot-8 senior Conor McDermott, who was later named Division II-AA Mr. Basketball, started a 7-0 run that put the Tigers in control. McDermott finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds before leaving with a shoulder injury.
The Tigers' other Mr. Basketball finalist, sophomore guard Cornelius Elder, scored a game-high 22 points and was named tournament MVP. Although they struggled at the free-throw line, the Tigers also had a decided advantage in attempts, making 16 of 31 compared to McCallie's 2 of 5.
"We lost the state championship by one quarter," Tornado coach Dan Wadley said. "We made too many mistakes in the fourth, and they capitalized on it. I thought our zone defense slowed them down as much as we could have hoped, and I'm very proud of the effort by our kids and the way they represented McCallie and Chattanooga."
Ensworth (27-3) finished 23-0 against Tennessee competition this season.