McCallie basketball coach David Conrady admitted his team had been embarrassed and disappointed three weeks ago in a 24-point loss at rival Baylor. After watching video of the defeat, he challenged his players by asking if that game defined the type of team they were.
The Blue Tornado responded to his challenge Friday on their senior night. Channeling that pent-up frustration into a dominant defensive performance, they held the Red Raiders to just 20 percent shooting and 1-of-22 success from 3-point range in a 48-22 Division II-AA East/Middle Region victory.
The 50-point swing from the earlier matchup was an obvious improvement, but the first-year McCallie coach looked beyond the score.
"The thing I was most proud of is that we played together as a team," Conrady said. "We talked about a few things that we wanted to do, but this win is all about them going out and executing for four quarters, regardless of what the scoreboard said."
McCallie (18-9, 8-4) controlled every facet of the game. The Blue Tornado, who shot 55 percent, were led by standout sophomore guard Eric Rivers, who scored 19 points as the only player on either team who finished in double digits.
Rivers had just as much of an impact on the defensive end of the floor, where he was challenged with guarding Baylor senior Beyuan Hendricks, the Red Raiders' leading scorer this season and a Tennessee Mr. Basketball finalist. Hendricks was held to just eight points — something Conrady said took a team effort.
"Beyuan is a great player; one guy is not going to be able to guard him," Conrady said. "Eric really did a tremendous job on him, but we had to guard him with all five guys. We didn't let him come free off of ball screens or get into the paint without confrontation."
It took the Blue Tornado a while to get going on offense — they didn't score their first basket until more than five minutes into the game — but they still finished the first quarter with the score knotted at seven. Rivers had his most productive offensive period of the game in the second quarter, and Baylor (19-4, 9-3) managed a lone Hendricks field goal as McCallie took a 15-point advantage into halftime.
With the lead over a Baylor team struggling to score, the Blue Tornado dictated the offensive tempo after the break. They took just 17 shots in the second half but made 12 of those, including going 8-of-9 in the final period.
McCallie had just seven turnovers in the game.
"We haven't done that all year," Conrady said. "We've had some issues taking the easy shot instead of waiting for the great shot. Tonight we did a great job of taking care of the ball and taking great shots. It's good to see what we can be when we take care of the ball and play together."
Contact Kevin Llewallyn at email@example.com.