After the COVID-19 pandemic kept some Tennessee high school basketball teams from having a chance to be crowned state champions earlier this year, coaches and players are showing appreciation for any time they have together.
Red Bank High School's boys welcomed a return to the court Thursday night, when they opened their season with a 51-50 overtime loss to visiting Sequoyah in a Hall of Fame game.
"John Shulman came to me before the game and had a great perspective," Lions coach Nick Fike said in reference to the University of Alabama in Huntsville men's basketball coach who previously led McCallie and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
"He told me, 'Coach, don't think about winning or losing. You have already won. You are getting the opportunity to come out here and play, and that's a win in itself.' We tell our guys every day in practice to enjoy their time together because you don't know when it could be gone."
While fans wore masks inside Susan Ingram Thurman Gymnasium, where attendance was capped at 200, the roar of the crowd could not be silenced in an exciting fourth quarter.
Red Bank's Kalen Sewell pumped his fist after hitting a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 43-all with 2:15 left in regulation. Just seconds after that, a double-team trap led to a Nick Smith steal that set up Ryan Barber for a 3 from the left corner that he drilled while being knocked to the floor for a 46-43 lead with 2:05 left.
"You look up, and the crowd is going crazy in the fourth quarter, and that's always fun to see again," Fike said. "We are out here and blessed to play. We are just happy to be back here and for our guys to be getting good experience. We will enjoy every day we get together and will come out and work hard tomorrow and put up a lot of shots, too."
Despite having two final possessions for a chance to win at the end of regulation and overtime, the Lions fell just short to the Chiefs, who were led by 23 points from 6-foot-5 standout Jackson Kuberka.
Red Bank's Barber had 19 points and four steals, Sewell added 10 rebounds and seven points and Kris Clay scored nine points.
Fike was pleased with his team's rebounding but said the Lions need to finish with better consistency on offense. With a handful of important players missing as the football team continues its run in the Class 3A playoffs, however, the basketball Lions are in no rush.
"What's important right now is for these guys to get experience. That's invaluable," Fike said. "We want our football team to keep winning. We want them to beat Loudon and beat Alcoa and then get a shot for a state title. There are guys out here on this team that are very talented, and we will keep growing and look forward to playing two more games at Ooltewah on Saturday, hopefully."
Earlier Thursday, Sequoyah's girls beat Red Bank 59-18 as Lady Lions coach Kevin Wilson made his debut. The Lady Lions, who got seven first-half points from Aiyana Loher, are without four of five starters from last season's team that finished with 27 wins in 2010 Red Bank graduate Bailey McGinnis's final year as coach.
East Ridge boys 59, Lookout Valley 34: A 27-6 third-quarter run extended the Pioneers' lead for the nondistrict win. Tyree Smith scored 12 points and Latrel Adair added 10 with 12 rebounds for East Ridge (1-1), while Lookout Valley was led by Richard Canales' 17 points and Caden Gilley's 12.
South Pittsburg girls 60, Sale Creek 35: A 34-10 second-half run helped the Lady Pirates pull away. Cambria Mabry led with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and Ashley Green added 15 points.