Arts & Sciences boys' basketball coach Mark Dragoo could have saved himself a lot of wear and tear on his vocal cords during the first half of Friday night's 55-40 district win against Sale Creek if he'd recorded himself before the game imploring his team to have more energy.
Even a raucous student section couldn't keep the host Patriots — who came into the game unbeaten against District 4-A opponents — from looking lethargic and worn down in the first half. After Sale Creek's Dominic May drained a shot from just across midcourt at the first-half buzzer, the Panthers — who haven't won a district game this season — took a 25-21 lead into the locker room.
"I just told them the same thing at halftime that I'd said the entire first half," Dragoo said. "We've been dealing with some sicknesses and have guys just getting back from injury, and it caught up to us in the first half."
Dragoo's vocal persistence finally paid off in the third quarter. The Patriots (11-11, 6-0) came out fired up defensively, causing four early turnovers that led to a 12-0 run that quickly turned the four-point deficit into a seven-point advantage. CSAS would go on to outscore Sale Creek (14-9, 0-6) by 19 points in the second half on the way to the 15-point victory.
"We just talked at halftime about staying focused and getting back where we needed to be," said Patriots star junior Cahlib Edwards, who went 11-of-19 from the floor for a game-high 25 points. "We came out in that third quarter in attack mode and ready to play. We just have to start playing focused from start to finish."
The biggest difference-maker for the Patriots after halftime was Troy Pride. He had only four points at halftime but scored 12 in the third quarter and finished the game with 20. His presence might have been felt even more on the defensive end, where he seemed to come up with a blocked shot or rebound on every Panthers possesion.
"Defense is the key to everything," Pride said. "They played good defense against us in the first half, and we had to match it and bring everything to the table."
Edwards and Pride combined to score all but one of Arts & Sciences' 22 third-quarter points. The Patriots pulled away with another 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter, and their defense held the Panthers to four points in the final period.
The win sets up a showdown with the Tellico Plains Bears — whose only district loss coming into Friday's games was to the Patriots — on Feb. 5 that could decide the district title.
May led Sale Creek with 14 points, while Cody Defore chipped in 13.
Contact Kevin Llewallyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.